Hawaii Wildlife Action Plan

By the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated archipelago in the world, situated more than 3200 km (2000 mi) from the nearest continent. Hawaii provides a textbook example of adaptive radiation, the process by which many new species evolve from a single common ancestor in a relatively short time span. With the world’s highest degree of endemism – 90 percent for terrestrial species and 20 percent for marine species – the diversity of unique species that have evolved in the islands is virtually unparalleled. Furthermore, the combinations of temperature and precipitation found in Hawaii include nearly 95% of the climatic variation in the Earth’s tropics, resulting in an extremely diverse range of habitat types founds at all elevations.

Hawaii is often referred to as the extinction capital of the United States, possessing one-third of the species federally listed as endangered. Much of Hawaii’s biological diversity however, is still in existence and can be conserved with well-planned management and collaborative efforts. Given the endemic nature of many of the species found in Hawaii, the focus for highlighting wildlife was on native species that were grouped into ten categories: terrestrial mammals, birds, terrestrial invertebrates, freshwater fishes, freshwater invertebrates, anchialine pond fauna, marine mammals, marine reptiles, marine fishes and marine invertebrates. Based on public feedback, Hawaii included native plants as well. Hawaii’s CWCS is a historic endeavor, as never before has the state attempted to address the needs of so many of its unique species in such a comprehensive manner, from the mountains to the sea.

From developing the list of species of greatest conservation need to finalizing the plan itself, Hawaii’s CWCS team developed advisory groups, conducted workshops and public meetings, and used a website as well as a mailing list to jointly develop its CWCS through a collaborative process. This approach to the overall planning and strategy development was chosen in the recognition that conserving and protecting Hawaii’s unique native wildlife and habitats for future generations is everyone’s responsibility, duty and honor.

Primary Challenges to Conserving Wildlife in Hawaii

The primary threats to wildlife in Hawaii include habitat loss and degradation, introduced invasive species, limited information and information management, uneven compliance with existing conservation laws, rules, and regulations, overharvesting and excessive extractive use, management constraints such as inadequate or conflicting policies, and inadequate funding.

Invasive Species

Due to their evolutionary history and high levels of endemism, Hawaii’s wildlife species are particularly susceptible to the threats posed by the introduction and spread of introduced species and pathogens. Non-native species may out-compete native species or may directly harm native species through predation, infection, and interbreeding and hybridization. Hawaiian terrestrial animals evolved in the total absence of mammalian predators and are extremely vulnerable to predation by these introduced species, especially rats (Rattus spp.), feral cats (Felis silvestris), and mongoose (Herpestes auro- punctatus).

Given that Hawaii is the main transportation hub for the Pacific, involving military, tourism and commercial transport, the state is at high risk for invasive introduction which will affect not only native wildlife and habitats but also the human population, via diseases such as West Nile Virus, and the economy, via animals such as the brown tree snake.

Working Together for Hawaii’s Wildlife

From the beginning, Hawaii’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy was a collaborative effort involving partners such as government agencies (Federal, state, county), non-profit organizations, universities, private landowners, researchers and scientists, community members, partnership initiatives, resource user groups such as hunters, recreationists, fishermen and Native Hawaiians, and the public at large. Primary staffing and project management was provided by the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the University of Hawaii Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit.

The Department began by alerting people to this initiative via a mailing to over 600 organizations and individuals, as well as by creating a website to share information and gather feedback from the public. The Department also built on existing and prior conservation efforts with analysis of management and recovery plans and data resources. From these methods, we developed a mailing list to consistently update partners on the development of the plan, as well as to solicit feedback on various products such as the list of SGCN and the species fact sheets (which were also made available on the website for review and comment).

In addition, the Department participated in several outreach forums such as Earth Day events and conferences in which booths and presentations were made about the CWCS. Technical workshops and public meetings were held on six islands to share the first draft of the plan and, based on the feedback from those meetings, a second draft of the plan was developed and made available via the website and mail. This resulted in the plan that was submitted to the National Advisory Acceptance Team.


The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies represents all of North America’s fish and wildlife agencies, promotes sound management and conservation, and speaks with a unified voice on important fish and wildlife issues.

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