The Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday approved plans by the DLNR, and US Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a pilot release of captive-bred ʻalalā onto forest reserve lands in east Maui.
ʻAlalā are native Hawaiian crows. An earlier species re-introduction project on Hawai‘i Island was halted, largely because the native Hawaiian hawk (‘io), their natural predator, was preying on the birds. While ʻalalā were last known to exist on Hawai‘i Island there is subfossil evidence of a Corvid (crow family) species on both Maui and Moloka‘i, according to DLNR.
For Maui releases, the DLNR and USFWS identified the project area through a collaborative process that evaluated eight sites on Maui and Moloka‘i. Since Maui Nui does not have a breeding population of ‘Io, researchers are hopeful releasing ʻalalā on Maui will be successful.
The agencies prepared a joint environmental assessment (EA) to address any impacts of pilot releases of ʻalalā. The assessment focused on the two highest-ranking sites, Kīpahulu Forest Reserve and Ko‘olau Forest Reserve. Project areas include a radius of 2.4 miles surrounding release sites, which is the maximum distance ʻalalā are expected to travel based on the previous Hawai‘i Island releases.
In its submittal to the BLNR, the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife indicated the preferred alternative is to release ʻalalā in the Kīpahulu Forest Reserve for the first release effort to minimize potential impacts to rare snails and other native species. The environmental analysis also addressed potential impacts to other threatened and endangered plants and animals, to cultural, recreational and wilderness resources, and to public health and safety, air quality, climate change, and environmental justice.
The interdisciplinary team consulted with scientific experts and environmental partners from DLNR, USFWS, the National Park Service, and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Released birds would come from the captive population of 120 birds. The birds are housed at two conservation breeding facilities managed by SDZWA on Maui and Hawaiʻi Islands.
DOFAW representatives told board members that after reviewing the final EA, they agree that a “Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)” justifies the pilot release of ʻalalā in east Maui.
The BLNR voted unanimously to approve the plan. No date for releases has been set at this time.