Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sheep Eating Palila Bird Out Of House and Home

Critically-endangered palila bird on a mämane tree. Photo by: USGS.

Earthjustice, an environmental legal organization, has filed legal papers against the Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources on behalf of the critically-endangered Palila bird. Earthjustice accuses Hawaii of failing to keep feral sheep and goats out of the Palila’s last habitat. If the birds lose this habitat, there is nowhere else they can go.

Apparently, courts have already issued three orders – the first in 1979 – that found the state guilty of not protecting the Palila birds from the environmental desecration done by the browsing habits of both sheep and goats. This puts the state of Hawaii squarely in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The Palila bird (a Hawaiian honeycreeper) lives its entire life dependent on the native mämane trees. The birds build their nests in these trees; feed on their seeds; and the only insect they eat is the native caterpillars found only in the seedpod of the mämane trees. Pretty limiting lifestyle.

The feral sheep and goats not only feed on these trees competing with the Palila for the same food source; but, they trample and kill young saplings which has the potential to destroy the habitat in the long-term.

“The state is not taking effective action to keep the sheep out of the Palila’s critical habitat, and the Palila population is suffering for it,” said John Harrison, president of the Hawaii Audubon Society. “Palila are on a crash-course toward extinction in large part because browsing animals are allowed to continue to destroy their only habitat.”

In the last five years, the Palila population has plummeted more than 60%, from 6,600 individuals in 2003 to 2,600 in 2008.

Earthjustice is requesting a fence be constructed by 2011 that would keep sheep and goats out of the Palila’s last habitat. They are also requesting the effectiveness of sheep hunting that already occurs in the habitat be increased. Earthjustice filed the papers on behalf of the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Hawaii Audubon Society, and the National Audubon Society.

Hawaii is the state experiencing the most dire bird crisis: 31 bird species are currently endangered in Hawaii. Out of 13 birds that are considered possibly extinct in the US, nine of them are from Hawaii.

Contact the Governor of Hawaii - Linda Lingle - to show your concern.

Constituent Services
State Capitol, Room 415
Honolulu, Hawai`i 96813
Phone: (808) 586-0221 or (808) 586-0222
Fax: (808) 586-0019

Governor's Office
Phone: 808 586-0034
Fax: 808 586-0006

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