Construction of a fence to restore habitats on the big Island of Hawaii by excluding unwanted livestock is pending, following the release of the final environmental assessment. Plans call for 88,500 feet of fence to protect 5,300 acres at the Kona Forest Unit of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.
The selected alternative calls for “pig and cattle-proof fences (5-foot tall)” to be constructed “around the two lower units and pig, cattle and sheep-proof fences (7-foot tall)” to be “constructed around the upper unit,” according to a Fish and Wildlife Service news release.
The selected alternative would provide “a 15-foot wide, bulldozed access corridor along the entire fenceline.”
“Fence construction supports the management plan approved in 1997 when the Kona Forest Unit was established,” when a portion of the private Kai Malino Ranch was purchased. “Management is focused on endangered species recovery actions including biological research and monitoring, prevention and suppression of wildfires, and habitat restoration through feral ungulate control, non-native predator control, invasive plant control, and reforestation.”
“The Kona Forest Unit is located in the South Kona District, Island of Hawai‘i on the leeward slope of Mauna Loa at elevations between 2,000 and 6,000 feet,” the news release said.
View of the Kona Forest. Image courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Forest types represented in the tract include a “mixture of introduced and native trees, shrubs, and grasses”; a mixture of koa (Acacia koa) and ‘ohi‘a trees and an understory of native shrubs and hapu‘u”; and a “mamane-sandalwood community” at higher elevations.
This forest “supports four species of endangered forest birds, the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat, and a high diversity of native plant species, of which several are threatened or endangered. Until 2002, the Kona Forest Unit also supported the last wild ‘alala or Hawaiian crow,” the news release said.
“The Kona Forest Unit also offers protected areas for other endangered faunal species, including the Hawai‘i ‘Akepa (Loxops coccineus), Hawai‘i Creeper (Oreomystis mana),‘Akiapola‘au (Hemignathus munroi), Hawaiian Hawk or ‘Io (Buteo solitarius), the Hawaiian hoary bat or ‘ope‘ape‘a (Lasiurus cinereus semotus) and an endangered picture wing fly (Drosophila heteroneura).”
Additional representative bird species, according to the environmental assessment, include: “several species of endemic forest birds including the native flycatcher ‘Elepaio (Chasiempis sandwichensis), and several Hawaiian honeycreepers including ‘I‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea), Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi (Hemignathus virens), and ‘Apapane (Himatione sanguinea).
Although the Hawaiian thrush or ‘Oma‘o (Myadestes obscurus) has been extirpated from Kona, proposed habitat improvements in the project area could allow its future reintroduction onto the Kona Forest Unit. Pacific Golden-Plovers (Pluvialis fulva) occur as migratory winter visitors...”
Letters of support for the project were submitted by the State of Hawai‘i, local residents, and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“The cost of the fence will be determined through a competitive bidding process that will take place after the fence corridor is cleared”, says James Glynn, acting Refuge Manager for the Big Island NWR Complex which includes Kona Forest and Hakalau Forest Units. “Once the fence corridor clearing project, scheduled to begin in 2008, is completed, the fence construction project will be started, likely in 2009.”
“Once the fence is constructed, and the feral ungulates removed, in 5-10 years, we should expect to see a dramatic increase in native understory plants and canopy density,” says Jack Jeffrey, Refuge Biologist. “The refuge will also be out-planting endangered native plant species that have been eliminated from the area by 100 or more years of ungulate presence. With the increased forest canopy density, native forest birds will find a safe haven to live. It is also likely that ‘Alala will also be re-introduced, but there needs to be many years of forest recovery before that happens,” Jeffrey said.