Monday, June 17, 2024

Hakalau Forest gets 15-year management plan

Endangered 'I'iwi at Hakalau | Photo by John KormendyThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the availability of a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) that will guide management of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge for the next 15 years.

The CCP outlines refuge goals and strategies, staffing and funding needs, and management and research priorities. It positions the Refuge to tackle challenges posed by climate change, which will exacerbate existing threats to endangered forest birds, such as avian malaria and habitat loss, said Jim Kraus, Project Leader of the Big Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Hakalau Forest NWR.

“The Refuge’s success, which is due in large part to long-standing partnerships and exemplary volunteer efforts over the last 25 years, has made Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge the primary place on Hawai‘i island where reversing the declining trend of endangered forest birds is being realized,” Kraus said. “It is very exciting to see the return of these rare birds to our restored forests and know that we have a role to play in recovering these species for future generations to enjoy.”

One of the primary goals identified in the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) is the restoration and protection of native forests. The Refuge’s original Hakalau Forest Unit was established in 1985 specifically to assure the continuation of native forest habitats. Key strategies related to this include increased ungulate control and the fencing of additional units, as well as management of invasive weeds. The review validated the management focus on fencing, ungulate control and reforestation as means to enhance recovery of many of the Big Island’s rare species, Kraus said.

However, such strategies require a sustained commitment to staffing and funding for many years to come – a need clearly outlined in the CCP and tied to its successful implementation. Over the last few years, the Refuge has lost funding and personnel, which has impacted on-the-ground protection efforts. Additionally, tree-falls frequently damage protective forest fencing along the existing 47 miles of fence line and significant portions of this fencing will need replacement in the coming years – funding for which has been backlogged with other maintenance needs. Recent acts of trespass into closed areas of the refuge and vandalism, such as cutting perimeter fences or locks and leaving gates open, only magnify the challenges faced by a refuge that is understaffed. The refuge currently has a field staff of 5, including short-term positions, to patrol vast remote areas and conduct weed and predator control activities over the 38,033 acres spanning units on both the Kona and Hakalau sides of the island.

“Refuge staff and volunteers are rightfully concerned that our efforts to re-establish our rare native plant heritage and maintain healthy populations of birds are at risk from pigs that have slowly regained entry to the refuge,” Kraus said. “I hope this plan will help us overcome the challenges we face, but we will need continued public and partner support to get the job done.”

The completion of the CCP fulfills the mandate of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, which directs all refuges to be managed under a Comprehensive Conservation Plan. This multi-year planning process began for the Hakalau Forest NWR in 2007 and involved interested individuals, local conservation and interest groups, research organizations, Native Hawaiian organizations, local, state, and federal government agencies and elected officials. Public outreach included meetings, presentations, public open houses, distribution of planning updates, workshops and other engagement opportunities that helped the refuge to develop a sound management plan.

“The planning process provided a good opportunity for us to review what’s been accomplished on the refuge over its first 25 years and what we can do in the coming years,” Kraus said. “We had substantial public input, which has given us a good sense of what’s been working to date and what the challenges are for the future. We are thankful to our many partners who contributed to this planning effort.”

The final Hakalau Forest NWR CCP, as well as a planning update that summarizes management actions and details how comments were incorporated, can be downloaded at the refuge Website. The documents also are available in hard copy or CD format from the refuge office (808-443-2300).

The refuge benefits greatly from its citizen support group the Friends of Hakalau Forest NWR. Established in 2006 to support the refuge mission, the Friends assist in volunteer programs, public education, special projects, and fundraising efforts.

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