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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 16, 2003

Critical habitat land designated

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

WAILUKU, Maui — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it would designate 93,200 acres as critical habitat for 59 threatened and endangered plant species on Maui, a reduction of about a quarter of the acreage proposed last year.

In addition, the agency said it would designate nearly 3,000 acres on Kaho'olawe, all for the plant kohe malama malama o kanaloa, or Kanaloa Kahoolawensis, which is found nowhere else in the world. The Kaho'olawe designation represents an

85 percent reduction from last year's proposal.

"Much of the acreage eliminated in the final rule was removed for biological reasons," Dave Allen, the agency's Pacific regional director, said in a statement this week. Allen also said nearly 26,300 acres was excluded because the land was being adequately managed to protect rare plants or because of voluntary conservation efforts by Haleakala and 'Ulupalakua ranches and other landowners.

Most of the habitat is in the upper elevations of East and West Maui. Fifty-five percent of the land is state- or county-owned, and about 80 percent is within the state conservation district.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is required under the federal Endangered Species Act to establish critical habitat to enable endangered and threatened species to expand their range and numbers. When it failed to take action to protect 255 Hawaiian endangered species, Earthjustice in Honolulu filed a successful federal lawsuit on behalf of three conservation groups to force the agency to comply with the law.

David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney who led the lawsuit, questioned whether enough habitat had been set aside to allow the rare plants to recover from the brink of extinction.

He also questioned the practice of recognizing private conservation efforts by excluding privately owned lands from designation. "We don't think that removing an area from critical habitat is an appropriate reward. It's the wrong incentive," he said.

Better options would be tax relief, cost-sharing or public recognition, Henkin said.

Another disappointment, he said, was the exclusion of land within the Waikamoi and Kapunakea preserves that are managed by the Nature Conservancy of Hawai'i, and of land within the upper area of the state's Hanawi Natural Area Reserve.

Henkin said the state natural area reserve system is chronically underfinanced, and there is no guarantee of future support.

"(Critical habitat designation) is an insurance policy that federal agencies, whether it's the military, the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Transportation or whomever is carrying out or funding activities in our state, will not trash essential habitat," he said.

"Even with best of intentions, the state and the Nature Conservancy can't stop the federal government."

Critical habitat designation means that before projects receiving federal money or requiring federal permits can proceed on these lands, the owners must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Landowners have complained that the designation limits options in the use of their property.

The service estimated that the Maui and Kaho'olawe designations could cost landowners $241,700 to $1.4 million million over a 10-year period.

The final critical habitat rule becomes effective in 30 days.

The service earlier this year eliminated thousands of acres of proposed critical habitat for Kaua'i, Ni'ihau, Moloka'i and Lana'i.