Hawaii government should not be slaughtering birds

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courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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.

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Comments

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8 COMMENTS

  1. From Kure Atoll to the Big Island, there are at least 197 introduced species of birds in the State of Hawai`i. Accidental or intentional, they are all beautiful and have found a home here, just like many of our human residents. To wipe out all these birds would set a terrible precedent for the state. It would never and could never return the suffering endemic species of Hawaiian birds to former glory; they were decimated for other reasons. I think it would be best for the state to focus on protecting the reefs and fisheries and removing the invasive plant species instead. Would you like to be more overrun with insect and plant life? Kill the birds.

  2. on the other hand ,our government policiesin the past allowed for the massacreand forced relocations of American Indians in the past and allowed for slavery.in australiaand especially in Tasmania government policies allowed the killing of every single aborigine in Tasmania.every single Abo was killed.the introduced species in America and Australia(in this case,the newly arrived immigrants)wiped out the native "species" (native humans).

  3. Federal US Fish and Wildlife and the Hawaii State Government, please stop killing our wildlife. Stop the secret agenda. Show transparency to the public, and respect the opinions and values of the people. It is not necessary to kill all owls and egrets just because of an occasional threat to native water birds. The protection owls and egrets provide in rodent control for the native birds and their nests could out weigh the threat. Endangered species may not survive the environmental conditions of our present and future world even at best, then we will have nothing.

  4. It seems that to the government, anything you can name must either be offered support and protection, or slaughtered.

  5. The only time I can think of where barn owls and egrets are being killed is in the few places where they directly predate endangered species such as around newell shearwater colonies and Hawaiian ducks in wildlife refuges. Personally, I would gladly give up a few individuals of a very common introduced bird to have more of the beautiful and voisterous newell shearwater, which fishermen use to find fish, or to have more of the Hawaiian duck, which could one day be a sustainable food source for us. Again, these "eradications" occur in such few places that one would be wrong to say it is governemnt policy to eradicate those species. Because in 99% of places in hawaii, it isn't any eradication program and they are allowed to roam free. So much for an eradication!

    • Actually, the state is removing protection of the egrets and owls, listing them as injurious wildlife so they can be killed anywhere. And the USFWS is proposing killing these birds in places where they are NOT a problem, as a way of preventing a problem. Read their EA. They claim that when they clear out these birds from a sensitive area, new ones come to repopulate. So their solution is get these birds everywhere.
      I also find your comment about eating Hawaiian ducks funny. Is this the reason why we have them on the endangered species list, to get their populations back so we can eat them? It's a lot easier to introduce wildlife that can easily thrive as a food source for people. But the government is busy killing this wildlife (pigs, goats, sheep, non-native fish) because they are introduced. Ironic, isn't it.

      • It can seem ironic but it's completely understandable if you have a grasp all the complicated laws, socio-political, and scientific factors governing wildlife in Hawaii. It's complicated. And if you think conserving a species so that we can sustainable manage them as an edible resource is "funny", then I must remind you that that is a very large part of why white-tailed deer, the wild turkey, the american bison, elk, black bear, and snow geese, and many other wildlife species of the continental U.S. (and Hawaii) are doing so well. Because people valued them for many reasons, including their hunting and eating qualities.

        Adding these species (owls and egrets) to the "injurious wildlife" list will be INSIGNIFICANT to their overall abundance. It's not like there a huge amount of people waiting for the chance to kill the crap out of egrets. Fewer still for barn owls. Most people like them. It's more of a symbolic gesture to add them to the list. It's the least the government can do from a legal perspective, or perhaps even a first step to something…

        And I agree with Syd Singer that it is a type of exotic animal xenophobia, however, one cannot deny that these introduced species do cause problems in some places, while they can be benign and even beneficial in others. I reiterate- it's complicated.

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