Two Hawaii Island conservation projects are getting a financial boost from the federal government.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife about $500,000 for projects to reintroduce the alala, or Hawaiian crow, to the wild on the Big Island, as well as work in the Ka‘u Forest Reserve. Each project qualified for about $250,000.
The alala is extinct in the wild, wildlife biologist John Vetter said.
“We have these birds in captivity,” he added. “We’re hoping to eventually introduce them back to the wild.”
To do so, DOFAW is restoring habitat in two island natural reserve areas by restoring plants the birds eat and building aviaries to house the birds, Hawaii Island DOFAW Branch Manager Lisa Hadway said.
“We hope to be able to release birds in the next two years,” Hadway added. “This first cohort of released birds, we’re going to learn a lot from it.”
The federal grant will help cover the cost of some of the habitat work, building the aviary and pay for staff, she said. Other habitat management tasks include keeping the area free of ungulates, predators and habitat-altering weeds.
Vetter said DOFAW officials also hope to do more outreach to the community, to explain the significance of the work.
A variety of factors led to the bird population decline across the state, Hadway said, including disease.
“Just like people, they didn’t have the immunity” to diseases birds coming to the state with traders had, she said.
The alala is “very social, very vocal,” and also large, she said.
DOFAW has a bird sanctuary in Keauhou, where some alala now live, she added. DOFAW partnered with a number of organizations, including the San Diego Zoo, for the project.
DLNR officials have been working for several years to cut back on invasive species and eliminate feral ungulates in the Ka‘u Forest Reserve. DOFAW now has one area resident working for them in a habitat management capacity, and the $250,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will allow the division to hire a few more staff members to continue with that project, at least for a few years, Hadway said.
The workers will conduct fence inspections and plant restoration, among other duties, she added. The area is full of invasive species, she said.
“You really have to pick the ones you are able to focus on,” she added.
One threat that has been spreading quickly, not just in the reserve but across the island, is the faya tree or fire tree, Morella faya, Hadway said. DOFAW designated the tree as one of the state’s most invasive plants, according to the Hawaii Invasive Species Council. Hadway said that plant may be one DOFAW employees focus on.
Twelve federally listed endangered species, including the io, or Hawaiian hawk, have been located within the 2,000-acre forest reserve.
DLNR has identified the forest reserve as a “critical watershed” for Ka‘u. Officials said, in an environmental assessment, invasive species, both plants and animals, threaten the district’s water supply. DLNR proposed removing ungulates, including cattle, pigs and goats, with special hunts and trapping.
The Pele Defense Fund in November challenged the environmental assessment, claiming the proposal merited an environmental impact statement.