24 April 2008

Wetlands Acquisition and Restoration Initiative on the Island of Kauai

Funding awarded through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) will allow protection and restoration of imperiled wetland habitats on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

View of the lower Kilauea River. Courtesy photo.

The "project will acquire and conserve portions of a coastal estuarine wetland ecosystem," according to the grant details, "to prevent losses of two nationally declining wetland types, and one regionally declining habitat type, and will restore wetland acreage on public lands that will be protected in perpetuity”.

The following conservation goals have been identified for this project, which will acquire 12 acres and restore 128 acres of vitally important wildlife habitat.

1) Restore 23 acres of palustrine emergent wetland within the Huleia Unit of the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge complex. "The Huleia Unit of the Kauai NWR is designated as a core wetland area, which is essential for the recovery of Hawaii's endangered waterbirds." Wetland restoration will directly benefit the wetlands-associated migratory and resident birds which inhabit and frequent the Huleia Unit.
2) Acquire 12 acres within the Kilauea Coastal Preserve, a contiguous protected habitat area adjacent to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (KPNWR), reducing habitat fragmentation for the endangered species that utilize the area. The KPNWR is a nesting and resting site for thousands of Hawaiian seabirds and the endangered Hawaiian goose. "The Kilauea Coastal Preserve is part of a patchwork quilt of managed areas being developed to protect rare and endangered species in the Kilauea River Watershed. State and county managed lands, a National Wildlife Refuge, and private land partners, combine to create contiguous habitat for wildlife.
3) Restore 105 acres of palustrine emergent wetland and upland coastal dune and strand habitat within Mana Plain State Wildlife Sanctuary. Restoration actions will support increased populations of migratory, wintering, and endemic waterbirds.

Picture of a pair of Koloa taken on Kauai. This species is expected to "benefit tremendously from this project, as Kauai is one of the last strong holds for this species." Photo courtesy of the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The project was awarded $1 million dollars in funding from NAWCA, with additional match and funding sources of $2 million provided by the Kauai Public Land Trust, Ducks Unlimited and the Atherton Foundation. Additional partners in the initiative are The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Coast Joint Venture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Coastal Wetland and Pacific Islands Coastal Programs, U.S.D.A. Natural Resource Conservation Service Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and the Kilauea Point Natural History Association.

"Although wetlands cover less than 3% of Hawaii's surface area, they are extremely important because they support both plant and animal species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands," according to information in the NAWCA grant summary. "Protection and restoration of Hawaii's remaining wetlands is essential for the recovery of the endemic waterbirds, as well as to the survival of migrant waterfowl and shorebirds that visit the islands. Kauai is considered the last strong hold for the endangered Hawaiian Duck and Hawaiian Goose due to the lack of the Indian mongoose, an invasive mammalian predator."

Hawaii's wetlands function as valuable resources from several points of view, said Christina Ryder, a biologist with Ducks Unlimited. The land tracts involved in this project are important waterfowl habitats and refuges that "support rare and endangered Hawaiian waterbirds including the Hawaiian coot, stilt, gallinule, duck (Koloa maoli) and goose (Nene). They also serve as productive resource systems and nursery areas, supporting an abundance of fish and other aquatic organisms as well as providing recreational opportunities and acting as aesthetically pleasing natural landmarks.

"Better control and access to water is critical to restoring the Huleia and Mana wetlands," Ryder said. "Due to agricultural modifications at both sites the ecological function of these wetlands has been severely impacted. Better access to water to flood and dry fields is crucial to providing improved forage and nesting habitat for endangered waterbirds. By installing wells and adding piping infrastructure wetland managers will have access to water for wetland management, this will increase invertebrate forage, nesting sites and loafing areas for migratory and endangered endemic waterbird populations.

Map of the Mana project region. U.S. Geological Service map.

These projects could not come soon enough as there have been dramatic declines in wetland habitats in the Hawaiian Islands over the last 50 years. "The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there were 22,487 acres of wetlands within coastal plains of Hawaii circa 1780." In 1990, an estimated 15,481 acres remained, a decrease of 31%. The agency also reported that logging, agriculture, grazing, military use, fire, and urban and residential development have claimed more than half of Hawaii's native habitats.

The importance of having different project partners is essential, Ryder added. "Partnerships between state, local and federal agencies allow a diversity of experts to collaborate on a project, as well as the ability to leverage additional resources that an individual agency may not be able to provide. By bringing together the State of Hawaii, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kauai Public Land Trust, this project is able to restore two key habitat areas and purchase additional habitats important for endangered species."

"Partnerships are the most effective way to create long term sustainable projects," Ryder suggested. "The more stake holders involved in a project means the more people who want to see the project succeed, and the more people that learn about wetlands and their importance to wildlife and the environment."

Public benefits expected for this initiative include "increased wildlife habitat and opportunities for wildlife-oriented recreation and environmental education, improved water quality, and increased shoreline protection, all of which will benefit the residents of Kauai.

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