Finalizing the proposed rule was necessary to extend to the O`ahu `elepaio the full range of legal protection that listing under the ESA confers. Now that it is listed, both federal and state law prohibit harassing, harming or killing the O`ahu `elepaio, including habitat modification that significantly impairs the bird's normal behavioral patterns such as breeding, feeding or sheltering. Listing will also require all federal agencies -- including the Department of Transportation and the military -- to ensure that their actions will not push the O`ahu `elepaio towards extinction in the wild.
"While we're pleased that the O`ahu `elepaio is finally protected as an endangered species, we're frustrated that, once again, the Service has flouted its duty also to designate the species' critical habitat," said Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorney David Henkin. "It's unfortunate that concerned citizens have to take the Service to court to force it to comply with the law. But critical habitat protection is vital to the O`ahu `elepaio's recovery, so that's what we'll do."
"Critical habitat" consists of those areas that must be managed to permit an imperiled species to recover to a level where it is safe, for the foreseeable future, from the danger of extinction. Critical habitat designation generally has little impact on private land owners since it is directed solely at actions carried out, funded or approved by federal agencies. Nonetheless, designating critical habitat confers significant benefits on Hawai'i's listed species by protecting them from federal agency actions -- such as federal funding of road improvements, federal infrastructure projects, and military training -- that can adversely modify or destroy the habitat on which these species depend for their survival and recovery. Also, designating critical habitat performs an important educational role, informing the public as well as state and local governments about areas essential to the conservation of Hawai'i's native species.
Habitat loss and degradation currently pose one of the primary threats to the O`ahu `elepaio. For example, the H-3 freeway -- completed in 1997 -- cut through Hälawa Valley, home to one of only seven remaining populations of the bird. Suburban and golf course development also displaces habitat the O`ahu `elepaio needs. Ordnance-induced fires and related military activities at Mäkua Military Reservation and Schofield Barracks pose significant threats to a large part of the bird's remaining habitat in the eastern Wai`anae Mountains.
Conservation Council for Hawai'i is a non-profit citizens' organization with over 300 members on O`ahu, approximately 550 members elsewhere in Hawai'i, and several hundred members in other parts of the United States. CCH seeks to promote environmental health and education in general, and the conservation and management of Hawai'i's natural resources in particular, including imperiled Hawaiian forest birds like the O`ahu `elepaio.