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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2001

O'ahu forest land said critical to endangered 'elepaio

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to identify 66,350 acres of O'ahu forest land as critical habitat for the endangered 'elepaio.

The forest bird, fairly common on the island only a few decades ago, has dropped to a population of fewer than 2,000. It is believed the reasons for the decline include rat predation and loss of the birds' habitat. They are found on less than 4 percent of the land they once inhabited.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service is obliged when possible to designate the habitat that would be required for the species to recover to a self-sustaining level.

The service has picked areas that essentially represent the habitat the bird covered as recently as 1975.

"Based on the known size of territory that each pair requires, the proposed critical habitat would be sufficient to support an 'elepaio population of approximately 10,100 birds," the service said in a statement.

The proposed habitat is mainly in the uplands of the Wai'anae and Ko'olau ranges, and includes about 25,000 acres of state land, 5,800 acres of federal land, 4,000 acres of city land and 31,000 acres of private land, much of it controlled by the Nature Conservancy of Hawai'i at its Honouliuli Preserve.

The 'elepaio is a small insect-eating bird that is believed to mate for life. It has a dark head and back, white underside, and brown streaks on its upper breast.

The agency has opened a 60-day public comment period. A final critical habitat designation should be made by Oct. 31.