Issue 6: Conservation of Native Biodiversity



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Funding levels from federal sources are also inadequate and inequitably apportioned. With more than 30 percent of the nation’s imperiled species, Hawaii receives less than 15 percent of the national appropriation under the Endangered Species Act, the traditional Section 6 Program and only one percent of the national appropriation under the State Wildlife Grants Program. In recent years, through related competitive grant programs within the Section 6 program, additional funding for conservation on private lands and for land acquisition (see Appendix C: Forestry Related Assistance Programs) has become available. Though Hawaii has been successful in securing a portion of these grants because of extensive and progressive partnerships with landowners, lack of sufficient overall funding to implement recovery programs, especially on state lands, leaves both critically endangered species and lesser known native species (e.g., terrestrial invertebrates) with little support.

Loss and Degradation of Habitat

Loss, fragmentation, and degradation of habitat have been primary contributors to extinction and rarity of native bird species and are suspected to play an important role in the decline of native invertebrate populations. Historically, logging, agriculture, grazing, military use, fire, and urban and residential development have claimed more than half of Hawaii’s native habitats. At low elevations where development pressures are highest, less than ten percent of native vegetation remains. Alterations of streams, non-point source pollution, sedimentation, and storm water runoff have decreased, fragmented, or degraded freshwater habitats. Marine systems downstream are affected by changes in stream systems, especially by any increase in sediment load. Corals, in particular, are susceptible to both pollution and excessive sedimentation. Anchialine ponds are threatened by the filling and trampling of the ponds, and the photosynthetic organisms (algae) that form the base of their food chain are easily disturbed. For other sensitive areas such as subterranean systems or nearshore reefs, the increase in human visitation, particularly by tourists, cumulatively impacts habitat quality and is a growing cause for concern.

Populations of many species are limited by the amount of suitable habitat available. This results in multiple problems that increase the probability of future extinction. Because many of the Hawaiian plant and animals co-evolved with one another, extinction of one species could lead to cascading extinctions of other species. While the current land use zoning of the Conservation District limits further loss of forested habitat to development, this designation confers only the coarsest protection. Without active management, these lands remain threatened by invasive plants and animal species or require restoration to support native wildlife. In addition, zoning does not protect the entire remaining quality habitat from being converted to another land use.

Priority Areas and Issues for Conservation of Native Biodiversity

Public Education

There is a lack of awareness about Hawaii’s avifauna. Mainland U.S. visitors and birdwatchers generally have little or no acquaintance with Hawaiian birds. Unlike most mainland areas, many listed Hawaiian birds are restricted to remote, high-elevation forests where access is difficult or impossible, so the opportunities to see native birds are limited. Similarly, many Hawaiian residents have little connection to, or knowledge, of native taxa, and without this connection, there is little demand from the public for increased funding.

Improve Information Access & Management

Huge gaps in knowledge exist for many native species. Gaps in information are often magnified by the challenges inherent in sharing information across institutions. Building on existing efforts to centralize information storage in a spatial database could better identify data gaps, provide a more comprehensive view of the status of a particular species or habitat, and allow management decisions to be made using the most up-to-date and accurate information.

Geospatial Data

Through a grant from the LANDFIRE national organization to the The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, a group of GIS technicians and ecologists developed a GIS layer depicting the condition of native ecosystems throughout the main Hawaiian Islands specifically for this Statewide Assessment. Based on extensive field inventories, ecological modeling and expert opinion all lands were classified in one of six categories which underlies Map 6.4: Priority Areas for Conservation of Native Biodiversity.

Category 1: Intact Native Ecosystems, Highest Biodiversity

These areas are important for maintaining native ecosystems and forest birds. These high-quality native-dominated areas (as designated by a habitat quality analysis developed from a combination of Hawaii Gap Analysis (HIGAP) and LANDFIRE datasets) have more intact structure and function and have historically documented high plant diversity and contain some of the most important areas to conserve forest birds. Within these areas, for example, native seed banks and other ecosystem components needed for persistence of native biodiversity are likely present and functional. These areas also have the potential to support a number of plant species and are considered to be high priority areas for maintenance of biodiversity.

Category 2: Intact Native Ecosystems, High Natural Biodiversity

These areas are important for maintaining native-dominated ecosystems, waterbirds, and coastal vegetation. While also native dominated, these areas have the potential to support fewer species of plants and forest birds than the Category 1 areas. Category 2 areas include those supporting core waterbird concentrations as designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and any areas containing high quality coastal vegetation, including islets.

Category 3: Rapidly Degrading Ecosystems

This category includes lands that have the highest potential for restoration. Although native plant plant species are no longer dominant, they are, by definition, located near native-dominated ecosystems. This category also includes areas that support a high number of native forest and seabirds. Native seed banks and other ecosystem components needed for native biodiversity may still be present and functioning. Restoring these areas can help defragment and reduce threats to adjacent areas. However, the user of this data set should bear in mind that some areas mapped in this category on Maui, Oahu, and Hawaii Island are the result of inaccuracies in the underlying HIGAP landcover data. Areas that should be included in this High Priority Restoration but were omitted include Puu o Kali, southern west Maui, back of Makaha Valley, and northern Koolaus. Areas that were inaccurately included in this class are Makena/Lower Olinda, any lowland dry natural community (especially the lowland dry shrubland on Lanai), and Hualalai/South Kohala. Based on the field experience of the ecologists on the mapping team, the consensus is that these aforementioned areas should be included in the next class; Threatened Native Ecosystems.

Category 4: Threatened Native Ecosystems

These areas have high potential and opportunity for habitat improvement. While dominated by natives, they also display the highest potential to increase species richness, representing opportunities to enhance species that have experienced a significant loss in historic range. Note that areas mapped in this class on the island of Lanai are actually much less extensive than map indicates because the lowland dry shrubland on Lanai is much less extensive than HIGAP maps it to be.

Category 5: Degraded Ecosystems

This class presents opportunities for localized native habitat restoration. Lands in the Degraded Ecosystems class are dominated by non-native species, and are not located adjacent to substantial native vegetation areas. These areas may or may not contain native elements or pockets of native biodiversity, but at a large scale, they have potential for improving their capacity to providing ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, soil and moisture retention and pollination. Degraded Ecosystem areas also include secondary areas for protecting waterbirds and coastal vegetation.

Category 6: Native Ecosystems No Longer Exist

This class of lands are areas where habitat conversion is severe enough to minimize chances of restoration of native biodiversity, due to paving over, contamination, and interruption of natural processes in the area. Alternative habitat uses like development and agriculture have destroyed seed banks, soil composition, and/or natural processes needed for native biodiversity. The very limited opportunities for restoration in these areas would require extensive reconditioning of the area before restoration could be possible. These areas are currently absent of substantial native biodiversity value (e.g., developed areas, intensive current and former agriculture, and managed tree plantations).

Priority Areas for Conservation of Native Biodiversity

Priority Landscape Areas for the conservation of native biodiversity consist of all areas that are designated Critical Habitat by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and/or are identified as Essential Habitat in the current Recovery Plans for Hawaii’s Forest Birds and Water Birds. Please refer to Map 6.4 for Priority Landscapes for the Conservation of Native Biodiversity.



Summary

Hawaii is home to the greatest number of threatened and endangered species in the United States. The decline in native species is mirrored by the loss of native habitat, with less than 40% of the land surface covered with native-dominated vegetation today. Loss, fragmentation, and degradation of habitat are primary contributors to extinction and rarity of native species. Because many of the Hawaiian plant and animals co-evolved with one another, extinction of one species could lead to cascading extinctions of other species.



Alterations of streams, non-point source pollution, sedimentation, and storm water runoff have decreased, fragmented, or degraded freshwater habitats. At low elevations where development pressures are highest, less than ten percent of native vegetation remains. Forest conservation plays a critical role in maintaining the health of makai (ocean) resources like coral reef ecosystems and limu (seaweed) beds. The interconnected network of streams and the adjacent land areas collectively, is referred to as a watershed, similar to the traditional Hawaiian land division ahupuaa. Activities or threats that affect one part of this interconnected system will affect some other part, thus affecting the whole of the system. Effective conservation of terrestrial habitats has direct relevance to the health of marine ecosystems

Successful conservation in Hawaii requires keeping remaining, relatively uninvaded native areas intact, stemming the establishment of new invasive species, restoring degraded areas needed for species-specific conservation goals, and devising practical strategies to limit the impact of widely-established species.

Hawaii continues to face major conservation challenges in protecting its over 10,000 native wildlife species.



Data Gaps

Limited Information & Insufficient Information Management

Resource managers must typically make decisions based on incomplete data and information. Data on the effects of different threats to native species is often lacking, as is information on the effects of different management techniques or actions on natural resources. Management decisions based on inadequate data can result in a misallocation of extremely limited conservation dollars.

For example, Hawaii’s forest birds have been systematically surveyed for the past 25 years, yet current information on population size or distribution in certain areas remains poorly known for some species. Limited funds restrict surveys mainly to currently managed lands and may not accurately reflect a population’s full distribution or abundance. Accurate population estimates for many Hawaiian waterbirds, seabirds, fishes, and for most non-threatened or endangered invertebrate populations are not available. Large numbers of native invertebrates have not even been described, making assessment of their populations and consideration of the consequences of proposed management actions problematic at best.

Huge gaps in knowledge exist for many native species. Population censuses cannot provide data on basic demographic parameters or determine threats to specific species. Such information is often necessary to direct management, especially for those species persisting at low populations. For example, for many Hawaiian forest birds, virtually nothing is known about their reproductive behavior, demography, survival, or dispersal tendencies.

Gaps in information are often magnified by the challenges inherent in sharing information across institutions. Multiple agencies and organizations in Hawaii collect and manage data on a variety of species and habitats. This information is often collected in different formats and for different purposes. There are no comprehensive computerized spreadsheets or databases that list even the names of all known Hawaiian species. Building on existing efforts to centralize information storage in a spatial database could better identify data gaps, provide a more comprehensive view of the status of a particular species or habitat, and allow management decisions to be made using the most up-to-date and accurate information. Section References



 Mitchell, C., Christine Ogura, DW. Meadows, A. Kane, L. Strommer, S. Fretz, D. Leonard and A. McClung. Hawaii's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2005.

 Teel, T.L., A.A. Dayer. Preliminary State-Specific Results from the Research Project Entitled “Wildlife Values in the West 2004". Fort Collins: Human Dimensions in Natural Resources Unit, Colorado State University. 2005.

3 U.S. Department of Interior Fish & Wildlife Service. Bulletin 20-983, 2003

 Kaiser B, Krause N, Roumasset J. 1999. Environmental valuation and the Hawaiian economy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

 Warren L. Wagner, Derral R. Herbst, S.H. Sohmer ; Yevonn Wilson-Ramsey, illustrator University of Hawaii Press : Bishop Museum Press, 1990 [Honolulu]

 Mitchell, C., Christine Ogura, DW. Meadows, A. Kane, L. Strommer, S. Fretz, D. Leonard and A. McClung. Hawaii's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2005.

 "HRS Chapter 174c - the Water Code", http://www.hawaii.edu/ohelo/statutes/HRS174C/HRS174C.html (accessed April 2010).

 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife, "Draft Revised Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Forest Birds " http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/recoveryplans.html.

 Leonard, Dave L., Jr. "Recovery Expenditures for Birds Listed under the US Endangered Species Act: The Disparity between Mainland and Hawaiian Taxa." Biological Conservation 141, No. 8 (2008): 2054-2061.


i Mitchell, C., Christine Ogura, DW. Meadows, A. Kane, L. Strommer, S. Fretz, D. Leonard and A. McClung. Hawaii's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2005.

ii Teel, T.L., A.A. Dayer. Preliminary State-Specific Results from the Research Project Entitled “Wildlife Values in the West 2004". Fort Collins: Human Dimensions in Natural Resources Unit, Colorado State University. 2005.

iii3 U.S. Department of Interior Fish & Wildlife Service. Bulletin 20-983, 2003

iv Kaiser B, Krause N, Roumasset J. 1999. Environmental valuation and the Hawaiian economy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

v Warren L. Wagner, Derral R. Herbst, S.H. Sohmer ; Yevonn Wilson-Ramsey, illustrator University of Hawaii Press : Bishop Museum Press, 1990 [Honolulu]

vi Mitchell, C., Christine Ogura, DW. Meadows, A. Kane, L. Strommer, S. Fretz, D. Leonard and A. McClung. Hawaii's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2005.

vii "HRS Chapter 174c - the Water Code", http://www.hawaii.edu/ohelo/statutes/HRS174C/HRS174C.html (accessed April 2010).

viii U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife, "Draft Revised Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Forest Birds " http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/recoveryplans.html.

ix Leonard, Dave L., Jr. "Recovery Expenditures for Birds Listed under the US Endangered Species Act: The Disparity between Mainland and Hawaiian Taxa." Biological Conservation 141, No. 8 (2008): 2054-2061.


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