Io may lose Endangered Species Act protection

The io population is secure so this revered Hawaiian hawk can be removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a proposal that’s ruffling feathers with some residents.


The io population is secure so this revered Hawaiian hawk can be removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a proposal that’s ruffling feathers with some residents.

Under its delisting proposal, FWS stated all protections provided by the Endangered Species Act would be removed, but the io would remain protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal law prohibiting the killing, selling or otherwise harming migratory birds, their nests or eggs. FWS would also be required to monitor the io for not less than five years. If at any time during this monitoring period data indicates ESA protection should be reinstated, FWS can initiate listing procedures, including an emergency listing.

FWS has developed a draft plan for the io in cooperation with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Resources Division. It includes monitoring io every five years for 20 years to verify the population remains secure after its delisting.

The io is the only hawk that nests and resides in Hawaii. When listed as endangered in 1967, the io was presumed to occupy only undisturbed, native habitat and its population was thought to be in the low hundreds. It is now known to occur in various habitat types, including native and nonnative forests, pastures and agricultural lands, according to FWS.

Because of recovery actions and conservation efforts, the io is now found throughout the Big Island and its population stable for at least 20 years. Its range is estimated to encompass 2,372 square miles, comprising nearly 60 percent of the island. Researchers also estimated the population is about 3,000 birds, FWS stated.

Seventeen years ago, FWS received a petition from the National Wilderness Institute to delist io.

FWS has reopen the public comment period on its proposal, originally published in 2008. Comments previously submitted will be considered and don’t need to be sent again. People have until April 14 to weigh in on the proposal. As of press time Monday, FWS had received online comments from four individuals.

Ann Goody, co-owner of Three Ring Ranch, a nonprofit exotic animal sanctuary in Kailua-Kona, questioned the estimated population and the remapping done to come up with the number of birds.

“No numerical data is given on the ‘current thinking’ as to number of birds. This quoted by the older study as being ‘re-mapped,’ which is really just someone sitting in an office and redrawing lines to cite that more of one area is covered in forest, thus making it have more hawks,” she said. “In reality, there is far more being lost than the plot makes and the Tax Map Key shows. Many very large parcels have quite old permits for grubbing that are only now, as the economy rises, being begun. Take, for example, Hokukano and McCandless Ranches where huge swaths of ohia and koa forest have been lost.”

Goody also is concerned that the proposal doesn’t specify a total of io considered a safe amount or give a baseline to consider ESA protection again.

“People still shoot the birds in Kona. I recently cared for two who had been shot with BBs. The shooter was not arrested, his guns were confiscated, but it is impossible to prosecute those type of cases without either someone as a direct witness or a perfect pellet that can be matched to a gun,” she said. “The law enforcement agents really try their very best, but it’s just can’t happen. There is an ever-dwindling area for birds, and unless large areas of prime breeding and hunting grounds, such as the slopes of Mauna Kea, are protected, these birds may well vanish.”

Steve Snyder, a Kona resident and licensed raptor rehabilitator, thinks the io population is stable, but would like more information on what the deregulation would do, particularly how it might affect the protection of these birds. He supports the proposal as long as the io is still protected and respected, as well as it results in more good than bad and there are no setbacks to io continuing to thrive. He also spoke about the importance of having ongoing awareness and education about these important birds.

Charles Flaherty of Apono Hawaii thinks delisting io is “a terrible idea,” especially when considering the bigger picture of “Sixth Great Extinction,” now happening. He spoke about how destruction and modification of habitat, along with the introduction of invasive and alien species, are adding to the planet’s demise.

When it comes to io, Flaherty said its habitats face many threats and are not secure, particularly as these areas are converted to agriculture land or urbanized. He thinks the proposal fails to take into account current and planned activities in the areas occupied by io. He also mentioned the overwhelming opposition this proposal has received since introduced. “There are just too many questions and threats. Why delist them. They’re not a pest,” he added.

Flaherty urged FWS to highly consider residents’ perspectives rather than the National Wilderness Institute because of the island community’s relationship with the io. He stressed io is a significant aumakua to Hawaiians and means a lot to many here.

In his testimony Thursday, Clarence Ching, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner and environmentalist, said he saw more io 10 to 20 years ago than now. He recalled watching these birds for 30 minutes or more as they performed flight acrobatics or perched somewhere.

“Well, those days have ended. And I would feel very lucky if I were able to observe any birds over the period of a month,” he wrote in opposition of the suggested action. “In fact, I saw two birds fly over my residence in Waimea about a week ago, and I felt blessed. It had been, I would estimate, at least five months since I’d seen my last io, which happened to be one sitting in a tree on the eastern slope of Mauna Kea at approximately the 9,000-foot level. So, either they are playing a game of ‘Hide and Seek’ or they’re not as abundant as they used to be.”

While it’s a shame some consider io a nuisance, Ocean View resident Shirley Pelland thinks “it would be a bigger shame to hurt any of them.”


“The Big Island is their only home and there are so few of them,” Pelland stated in her testimony Monday. “I see more whales than I do io. Please protect our environment and do not cave to special interests.”

Visit to comment on this proposal, which is Docket No. FWS–R1–ES–2007-0024. Or mail testimony to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R1-ES-2007-0024; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

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