Continuing Resolution Could Push Hawaiian Wildlife to the Brink of Extinction

Fighting for Paradise

04-01-2011 // Mekell Mikell

Aloha can mean hello or goodbye, and congressional budget cuts could have threatened and endangered species in Hawai’i saying aloha (goodbye) forever. The house-passed Continuing Resolution, or H.R.1, slices billions of dollars from critical wildlife protection and water restoration programs essential for saving unique and valuable plants and animals in the Pacific Ocean state.

Trouble in Paradise

Hawai’i is a paradise with more than 25,000 unique species of plants and animals. The natural beauty and biodiversity of this oceanic archipelago is what attracts visitors from all over the world. However, there is trouble in this tropical paradise. The Aloha State is also known as the Endangered Species Capital of the United States. Hawai’i has more plants and animals near extinction than anywhere else on earth per square mile. Many of the programs that protect and preserve wildlife habitat also face extinction under H.R.1.


National Wildlife Refuge System

The Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge provides essential habitat for endangered wildlife like the Hawaiian monk seal, one of the most threatened marine mammals in the country.  The Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge is also one of the last and best remaining habitats for endangered forest birds. Hakalau means “many perches” in Hawaiian, and it is a native rainforest located on the slopes of Mauna Kea. Of the 14 native birds at the Refuge, 8 are endangered. Slashed funding for the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge and similar sanctuaries could push more Hawaiian species toward the brink of extinction.

State and Tribal Wildlife Grants

State and Tribal Wildlife Grants (SWG) help keep wildlife off of the endangered species list in every state in the country. This program ultimately saves taxpayers the added cost of rescuing plants and animals near extinction and protects jobs related to the $45 billion wildlife-related recreation industry. Unfortunately, H.R.1 zeroes out funding for State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, making this program another endangered species. Elimination of SWG programs will be devastating for wildlife. These grants help provide protection for native birds, tree snails and plants from non-native predators like rats and mongooses. State and Tribal Wildlife Grants also support Hawai’i’s Plant Extinction Program, which helps preserve at-risk plants through seed collection, plant propagation, and reintroduction in the wild.


National Park Service

Proposed congressional budget cuts to the National Park Services (NPS) will severely handicap conservation efforts at two of Hawai’i’s largest wildlife habitats: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park. These locations are also big tourist draws. These parks also support many rare and endangered species and boast the largest populations of nene, the endangered state bird. Cuts to the NPS service will negatively impact the conservation efforts at national parks and throughout the state.


Fighting for Hawai'i's Cultural and Environmental Heritage

“Just a little bit of funding can go a long way,” says Paul Conry, administrator of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife for the Department of Land and Natural Resources in Hawai’i. According to him, programs like State and Tribal Wildlife Grants are essential for the restoration and conservation of the state’s endangered forest birds. It is a “public benefit for the nation to preserve these unique species,” he says. Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of the Conservation Counsel for Hawai’i, also emphasizes the need to protect the state’s wildlife. “Virtually all of our native Hawaiian species are unique to the islands and found nowhere else in the world,” she notes. “If we do not protect them here in the islands, they will be gone forever.”

In addition to putting plants and animals at risk, congressional budget cuts to conservation can also be a job-killer. Hawai’i’s natural beauty is a major economic driver for the state, and preserving nature is vital for tourism and other wildlife-based industries. If H.R. 1 takes effect, Conry’s department stands to lose 50 to 60 jobs, not to mention the other jobs that depend on a vibrant and well maintained ecosystem.

Ziegler, Conry and other Hawaiian residents are working to preserve the irreplaceable natural legacy of their state. As the budget showdown between the White House, House of Representatives and the Senate looms, Americans everywhere are urging lawmakers to protect the nation’s strong tradition of consevation for current and future generations. Hawaiians are also reaching out to their senator, Daniel Inouye, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As chairman, he will be included in all funding negotiations and will be a chief decision-maker for the final budget.  Senator Inouye has served Hawai’i for 48 years as a member of Congress, supporting the original Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and many other conservation laws.  Over the years, he fought to preserve conservation funding, and those who love Hawai’i's cultural and environmental heritage are looking to him to continue fighting for paradise.

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