Hawaii approves mosquito suppression plan to help endangered birds

Iʻiwi, a bird threatened by mosquito-borne avian malaria.

In late March, the Hawaii Land and Natural Resources Board (BLNR) unanimously approved a plan to eliminate mosquitoes at the landscape scale in critical forest bird habitat to reduce populations of mosquitoes. mosquitoes in the dense, humid forests of East Maui.

The goal of the project is to prevent the extinction of threatened and endangered forest birds. Avian malaria, a deadly disease, is the main cause of the dramatic decline of the six remaining species of Hawaiian lianas: ‘I’iwi, Maui ‘Alauahio, Hawai’i ‘Amakihi, ‘Apapane, Kikiwiu and ‘Ākohekohe. For critically endangered species, like Kiwikiu and ‘Ākohekohe, the increasing presence of invasive mosquitoes has put them on an extinction course within the next two to ten years.

The mosquitoes that spread avian malaria are unable to breed successfully in cold environments, so these creepers were able to persist in the native high-altitude forest habitat east of Maui. Rising temperatures associated with climate change are allowing mosquito populations and avian malaria to expand into these high altitude native forests, where some of the last remaining populations of these forest birds remain.

The DLNR and the National Park Service (NPS) have jointly produced a final environmental assessment which proposes using a proven method known as the Incompatible Insect Technique (ITT) to control invasive mosquitoes in forests to reduce the incidence avian malaria, which is fatal.

ITI has been used successfully around the world to limit the effects of mosquitoes on human health and to reduce populations of southern house mosquitoes, which spread avian malaria. The technique uses a naturally occurring bacterium called Wolbachia. Male mosquitoes, with an incompatible strain of Wolbachia bacteria, are released to mate with wild female mosquitoes which lay eggs which do not hatch. The result is much smaller mosquito populations. Male mosquitoes do not bite and cannot transmit disease.

The environmental assessment considered the potential impacts of the proposed project, which would affect parts of Haleakalā National Park, several forest reserves managed by DLNR and private parcels of land in east Maui. The comprehensive 300-page assessment considered the impacts of inaction, an analysis of cultural resources in the project area, and responded to specific comments provided by community members on an earlier version.

See also  Spreading The Not-So-Good News

Based on the assessment, the NPS announced March 23 that it would issue a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the project, clearing the way for ITT to proceed on federal lands in the project area. Friday’s BLNR decision allows the project to also move forward on proposed public and private plots.

“This is an emotional issue for people,” BLNR president Dawn Chang said. “These birds are part of our cultural and ecological heritage, and I think everyone wants to see them protected in the right way. Whether in favor or in opposition, we appreciate all those who have provided their manaʻo on this subject so that the Board can make an informed decision on the appropriateness of EA. What we do know is that doing nothing will put these precious manu or birds at further risk of extinction.

Both the DLNR and the NPS are members of Birds Not Mosquitoes, a collaboration of state, federal, and private nonprofit partners working to save Hawaiian honeys from extinction.

Thanks to the Hawaii Department of Lands and Natural Resources for giving this news.

Federal government announces plan to fight avian malaria

Kiwikiu among the 10 American species most threatened by climate change

Mosquito control project aims to help Hawaiian birds