Among the 38 species proposed Monday to be added to the federal endangered species list are the Lanai tree snails, which were part of a larger population of Hawaiian tree snails that once could be plucked off trees for lei but has dwindled to single digits in some surveys in central Lanai.
One of those Lanai snails known as partulina variabilis, or pupu kani oe, which means "snail with the long song or long ring," gives birth to live offspring, unlike most snails that lay eggs, said Art Medeiros, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who was not part of a proposal group but is knowledgeable about native plants and animals.
In the past, the shells of the snails were used to make lei and purses, because there were so many of them, he said. Back in the 1920s, people used to gather them by horseback, plucking them off trees.
A member of the achatinellidae family and the endemic Hawaiian subfamily achatinellinae, pupu kani oe, the Lanai tree snail, is known to be found only on Lanai.
HANK OPPENHEIMER photo
Although there are no historical population estimates, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said qualitative accounts of Hawaiian tree snails indicate that they were widespread and abundant and could have numbered in the tens of thousands between the 1800s and early 1900s statewide.
More recent surveys over nearly 20 years have registered a high of 55 pupu kani oe to a low of four in ecosystems in central Lanai.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday released its proposed Maui Nui listing and critical habitat package that aims to add 38 species to the endangered list, to re-evaluate the endangered status of two listed species, and to designate as critical habitat 271,062 acres on Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe to protect endangered and threatened species.
Public comment on the Maui Nui proposed endangered species list and proposed critical habitat areas are currently being accepted. The highlights include:
* Copies of the proposed rule may be found at www.fws.gov/pacificislands/.
* Requests for a public hearing on the proposed endangered species listing and critical habitat proposal must be received in writing by July 26.
* All comments on the proposal are due Aug. 10.
* Comments and requests may be sent to www.regulations.gov. Refer to Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2011-0098. Comments may be mailed or delivered to Public Comments Processing Attn: FWS-R1-ES-2011-0098; Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, Va. 22203.
* For more information, contact Loyal Mehrhoff, field supervisor, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, by mail at 300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 3-122, Box 50088, Honolulu 96850; by phone at (808) 792-9400 or by fax at (808) 792-9581.
Getting on the endangered species list for animals allows for federal protection generally from being hurt, harassed, traded or sold. If a plant is on the list, it is protected if on federal lands or if federal actions are involved. On private lands, the federal government does not have jurisdiction but hopes that the landowner would work with the government to protect the species.
Being on the endangered species list means that the species is likely to become extinct, and that the federal government's goal is to make the species thrive again.
Some of the plants and animals on the proposed endangered list include sweet-smelling flowers and plants whose flower nectar once fed Hawaiian birds whose feathers were used for cloaks for Hawaiian royalty.
There is one proposed "de-listing" of a species, which is a plant from Lanai called the Gahnia lanaiensis. The plant is no longer believed to be a valid species and is now known to be synonymous with a species endemic to New Zealand that is not in danger of extinction or likely to become an endangered species, the service said.
The public has until July 26 to provide in writing requests for public hearings and has until Aug. 10 to comment on the proposed rule. The comments may include threats to the species, the distribution and population of the species, current or planned activities in the areas occupied by the species and possible impacts of the activities.
The comments will be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and "signed off at many levels," said Ken Foote, information and education specialist for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office on Oahu. He said that the process could take about two years before the plants and snails become listed.
Foote said population numbers are not the only component assessed before putting a species on the endangered list. Where the species live and how large the area is and threats to the species are other components in the evaluation process.
In Maui Nui, 35 of the proposed new species for the endangered list are plants, including herbs, shrubs, trees and ferns. The three animal species are the Newcomb's tree snail and two Lanai tree snails.
Fifteen plant species are those "of concern," each with fewer than 50 individuals remaining, a news release about the endangered species proposal said.
The species sought for protection are in all areas of the islands from the coastlines and wet and dry cliff sides to wet mountain areas.
Medeiros said Monday that the phyllostegia bracteata and phyllostegia haliakalae, which are proposed to be endangered, have "sweet-smelling flowers" and whose scent, if bottled, would be a hit at Macy's.
"It's so floral sweet without being overpowering," Medeiros said.
He added women would love to have these flowers in their yards, because they also have delicate blooms.
Another rare flower on the proposed protection list is cyanea, or haha in Hawaiian. Medeiros said that these flowers were once visited by now extinct native bird species and the absence of those birds could be one of the factors in this flower's decline. The pollinators are now gone, he said.
He added that the flowers with curved tubes to match birds' bills also are being overrun by pigs and weeds.
The haha's flowers are white and/or purple. He said that they deliver "high quality" nectar to the birds whose feathers were once used for cloaks for alii.
Another proposed protected plant, the canavalia pubescens, or 'awikiwiki, a dryland plant, is being eaten by axis deer and goats and could be threatened by development in South Maui, biologists said. The 'awikiwiki can be found in dry lava areas above Kihei and out past La Perouse in the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, said biologist Forest Starr. He and his wife have been photographing native plants and animals for the last 15 years in Hawaii and have amassed more than 100,000 images.
"They are rare enough people are putting fences around them," he said of the 'awikiwiki, which is only found on Maui.
The plant has historically been known to grow on Niihau, Kauai and Lanai, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Currently, there may be fewer than 200 individuals at a single location.
Overall, Starr, who also was not part of the proposal group, said: "A lot of the native Hawaiian plants are rare. Maybe they are all going to get listed someday."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also is seeking to have 192,364 acres on Maui designated as critical habitat along with 46,832 acres on Molokai, 25,413 acres on Lanai and 6,453 acres on Kahoolawe.
About 47 percent of the area being proposed as critical habitat already had that designation for listed species. This proposed rule will revise previous critical habitat designations made in 1984 and 2003.
Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act that identifies specific areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management conditions, the news release said.
Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure species and habitats are protected. The designation of a critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other special conservation area designations.
The action does not mandate government or public access to private lands.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also is proposing name and spelling changes to 13 listed endangered Maui Nui plants and animals.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.