Conservation Council for Hawai’i, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, won a victory this morning for Hawai’i’s endangered plants. Judge Helen Gillmor of the Hawai’i District Court ordered Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior, and Jamie Rappaport Clark, Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”), to finalize a proposed rule to list ten Hawaiian plant taxa as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) by August 31, 1999. All of these plants are found naturally only in the Maui Nui group of islands, which consists of the islands of Maui, Moloka`i, Läna`i and Kaho`olawe. The Service published a proposed rule to list these plants on May 15, 1997. Despite the ESA’s strict deadlines for adding to the endangered species list, the Service is over a year late in listing the Maui Nui plants. These plants include a relative of the fragrant Kaua`i mokihana and a new plant, palupalu o Kanaloa, discovered on Kaho`olawe in 1992.
“Today we experienced another round of victory in the effort to protect endangered species and to preserve a small piece of Hawai’i’s unique biological heritage for our keiki,” said Karen Blue, Executive Director of Conservation Council for Hawai’i, the Hawai’i affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.
Finalizing the proposed rule is necessary to provide the Maui Nui plants with the federal protection they desperately require. The plants are currently threatened by habitat degradation and/or predation by alien species including pigs, goats, deer, rats and slugs; competition for space, light, water and nutrients by alien plants; and substrate loss. Several plants have been reduced to less than ten individuals. For example, only two individuals of the palupalu o Kanaloa remained in the wild when the proposed rule was published.
“The Maui Nui plants, like our other Hawaiian plants and animals, are an essential part of our cultural heritage. It is our responsibility to mälama (take care of) this vital link to our culture. This morning, we won a great victory, not merely for endangered plants, but for our unique Hawaiian culture,” explained Legal Defense Fund attorney Kapua Sproat.
“Placing plants on the endangered species list and identifying critical habitat is the first step to recovery. Learning how to grow and maintain a plant in a botanical garden is not enough. We have to keep the wild alive,” said William Sager, representative of the Conservation Council for Hawai’i.