Wednesday, February 7, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Kaua'i in quandary over rare foliage

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

LIHUE, Kauai — Hunters are afraid of being fenced out of hunting areas, environmentalists are afraid of losing endangered plants, and the Fish and Wildlife Service stands in the middle, able to please neither.

The various interests debated yesterday at a hearing on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s court-mandated proposal to designate more than 66,000 acres of Kauai and Niihau as critical habitat for 76 species of endangered plants.

Hunters, many of them in bright orange shirts, told the agency they fear such designation will ultimately mean the areas will be fenced and that pigs, deer and goats will be killed off.

"We do not want this taken away from us," said Winifred Cummings, who hunts for recreation and to help feed her family. Her 13-year-old granddaughter is her hunting companion.

"It seems like our values are being lost," said Bill DeCosta. "They’re trying to change the way we live."

But others argued the proposed designations don’t go far enough.

"Including only existing ... populations is insufficient to ensure recovery," said biologist Don Heacock.

A U.S. District Court ruling in 1998 ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to take action on whether critical habitat should be established for 245 endangered Hawaii plants. The Kauai and Niihau species were among the first 100 species whose designation or nondesignation must be completed by November.

The service also has proposed critical habitat areas for the islands of Maui County, but not for Oahu and the Big Island. Public hearings on the habitat proposals are held by request. No hearings have been announced for Maui County.

Christa Russell, plant conservation program coordinator for the wildlife service, said the designation does not mean areas will be fenced or that hunting will be stopped. But if federal funds are used on or federal activities are proposed for the lands, the federal government must ensure the proposed activities do not jeopardize the endangered species.

Some speakers at yesterday’s hearing called the hunter-environmentalist conflict unfortunate, and suggested there may be acceptable middle ground.

County Councilman Ron Kouchi, who said he spoke for constituents who hunt, among others, said he fears the Fish and Wildlife Service could go too far in its efforts to comply with the court order. He suggested state mediation services could help the two sides reach a compromise.

Marjorie Ziegler of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which filed the suit leading to the federal court order, said hunters and environmentalists have similar interests in protecting the forest areas of the state.

She suggested it should be possible to protect areas that contain endangered species while at the same time improving hunting opportunities in other areas.

Several speakers suggested that critically endangered plants should be protected outside the wildlands, in botanical gardens or elsewhere.

"If you want those plants to grow, ask people to grow them in their yard," said Joseph Manini Sr.

Ann Leighton said she chafes at the idea that Washington can make the best land management decisions for Kauai.

"I’m a vegetarian, but I’m ready to put an orange hunter shirt on right now" as a message of support for local land use decision-making, Leighton said.

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