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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 9, 2001

Haleakala launches annual count of nene

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK, Maui — The annual nene count is under way at Haleakala National Park, where only 200 to 250 of the endangered geese are believed to live.

Nene appear to thrive around the Kaua'i Lagoons golf course at Nawiliwili on the outskirts of Lihu'e, above. But at high elevations of Haleakala on Maui, the geese struggle to maintain a small population.

Advertiser library photo • July 18, 1995

The survey, which has been conducted annually for the past 10 years, is being done at a time when family groups and single adults are flocking in the August pre-breeding season. Nearly 50 researchers from a variety of agencies including the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Hawai'i are taking part in the nene count, which started yesterday and ends this afternoon.

The results will be compared with past surveys and supplement the year-round nene monitoring program that provides data on the nene population within the national park.

Tour helicopter companies are doing their part by altering flight paths around the survey areas to provide the quiet necessary for nene counters to hear and find the geese, the official state bird of Hawai'i.

Nene, once extinct on Maui, were reintroduced to the island at Haleakala National Park in the early 1960s. Large-scale releases of nene within the park continued until 1978.

In the past 10 years, nene also have been released into lowland areas of Kaua'i and on the mid-elevation slopes of the West Maui Mountains, as well as on Moloka'i.

Haleakala initially was chosen as a new home for the rare geese because it is a protected area with programs in place to control predators such as mongoose. But researchers now think the high elevation may not be an ideal habitat for the birds, said Park Ranger Jennifer Spaulding.

"The summit area is dry and doesn't have the variety of food sources that lowland areas have," she said. The birds eat grasses, seeds, buds, flowers, leaves, fruits and berries.

The dearth of adequate food is true even at wetter Paliku in the park's back country, where many nene live, Spaulding said.

Poor nutrition is suspected as one reason why nene goslings have a low survival rate and why the nene population at Haleakala has remained level in recent years.

Spaulding said that later this year, biologists will begin an experiment to provide supplemental food in nene nesting areas to see if it results in an increase in numbers in next year's survey.

Other agencies participating in the current count are the U.S. Geological Survey's Biological Resource Division, the state's Maui Forest Bird Recovery Program and the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the Maui Invasive Species Committee, the Maui Bird Conservation Center, the Student Conservation Association and Haleakala National Park.