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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Critical habitat for moth is less than planned

 •  Map: Designated moth habitat

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 55,451 acres on four islands as critical habitat for Hawai'i's largest native insect, the Blackburn's sphinx moth.

The endangered species Blackburn's sphinx moth is the largest of the insects that are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.


But Earthjustice staff attorney David Henkin said the government agency inappropriately left out more than 11,000 acres of private land because the landowners threatened to stop working with the federal service if the land were designated critical habitat.

"We have some serious concerns about these incentives they're setting up. It reinforces (the perception of) critical habitat as some sort of burden or punishment. It reinforces anti-conservation values," Henkin said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service view is that the decision works to improve the likelihood that landowners will assist in protecting species, said Paul Henson, field supervisor of the service's office for the Pacific islands.

"If we have the flexibility and discretion to encourage landowners to be cooperative, it sets a good example, not a bad example," he said.

The Blackburn's sphinx moth once inhabited the dry coastal regions of all the Hawaiian islands, but as recently as 20 years ago it was believed to be extinct. It has since been rediscovered on Maui, Kaho'olawe and Hawai'i. Critical habitat was established on each of those islands as well as on Moloka'i.

The caterpillar feeds on the native plant known as 'aiea and some of its relatives in the tomato family. The moth species has been threatened by loss of habitat and by attacks of ants and parasitic wasps.

The habitat includes six units on Maui's southern coast totaling 23,500 acres, 4,252 acres on eastern Kaho'olawe, 2,288 acres of central Moloka'i in the Kamoko-Pu'ukolekole area; and a 24,600-acre section on the Big Island in the Pu'uwa'awa'a-Hualalai area.

The service agreed to withhold 11,656 acres of land on Ulupalakua Ranch and Haleakala Ranch because both landowners, having worked with the service on previous occasions, "made it clear that they may no longer be willing to work with us on these voluntary projects if we designated critical habitat," Henson said.

The service also excluded 518 acres in Kona, where a 1,000-unit affordable housing development and town center were planned at Kailua. That decision was based on the potential economic and social impacts of designating the land critical habitat, the service said.

Henkin said that is not "a proper reason to deny protection to a species."

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.

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