BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER –
Open letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie and State Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Bill Aila –
The second week of May is World Migratory Bird Week, celebrating the biodiversity and beauty of these avian tourists. In many places of the world, it is a time to reflect on environmental health as the ecosystems which these migratory birds use are becoming increasingly limited due to development and pollution.
Here in Hawaii, however, there are plans afoot to eradicate our most common migratory birds, the cattle egret and barn owl. While these species could have come the long distance to Hawaii on their own, the current population of egrets and owls were introduced to the islands at about the time of statehood. They were considered beneficial to agriculture and human health because of their predation of pest rodent and insect species.
It was their introduction that is becoming their undoing. The introduction of species, once considered a good way to increase biodiversity, is now considered an environmental sin. Environmental policy has gone native, and all that matters to government managers now is saving native species and killing the “aliens”.
It seems that some migratory birds are fine in Hawaii, so long as they don’t overstay their visa, so to speak. They have to move on, like good tourists. The problem with the cattle egrets and barn owls is that they have become landed immigrants. And like many human immigrants who were at first brought to a new land by one generation but later reviled and killed through ethnic cleansing when nationalism and native supremacism re-emerged, these immigrant bird species are now becoming the target for species cleansing, a process that is threatening non-native plants and animals throughout Hawaii.
Of course, there is a parallel between the way we treat non-native wildlife and the way we treat non-native cultures. Prejudice against newcomers by “locals” is a real problem in Hawaii. Government attempts to protect native species and eradicate non-native species is setting a bad example for human interactions, and is making bullying a worse problem in Hawaii.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources has the fencing of our forests and eradication of non-native vegetation and animals as its primary goal. All its policies are couched in biased, nativistic terms, labeling everything that has been introduced as “invasive”. Once so labeled, there is no escaping the death penalty. It doesn’t matter if it is a beneficial species. All its merits are ignored. All individuals of those species are attacked. There are no exceptions allowed.
Cattle egrets and barn owls are now in the cross hairs of these eradicators. They will be poisoned, shot, strangled, and lured to their death by broadcasts of their calls. People who enjoy these birds will lose the pleasure of watching them and the pest control services they provide. We are expected to settle for rare glimpses of native wildlife and adjust our pleasures accordingly.
Governor Abercrombie and Mr. Alia, this is a bad policy, both for biodiversity, and cultural diversity.
Climate change is requiring that we embrace new species that can adapt to new environmental conditions. Habitat restoration to a past, “native” condition is impossible in a changing world. We need to look forward, not backward.
Tourists and residents enjoy the sight of flocks of cattle egrets beautifying our skies and adorning our fields. Barn owls fill the night with awe and wonder. These species are protected by international migratory bird treaties. We need to protect them, not kill them.
We have gathered over 2800 petition signatures from people around the world to ask for a reprieve of these birds and to not kill them here in Hawaii. It is good for tourism to have beautiful wildlife, and bad for tourism to be seen as a place where migratory species are killed for not being local.
Let’s find ways to protect native and endangered species that does not require eradication of other species. “Final solutions” of this kind are not pono and do not reflect an Aloha spirit. We need to make peace with all immigrants, human and non-human. Diversity is the answer to surviving the climatic and geopolitical challenges that face our islands.
To see our petition, please go to www.DontKilltheBirds.com.