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Nene deemed ‘on its way to recovery’

Fish and Wildlife Service proposes the downlisting of Hawaii state bird to ‘threatened’ status

A pair of nene allow some Kihei visitors a bit of bird- watching in 2013. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to downlist the Hawaiian goose, or nene, from “endangered” to “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The state bird’s population has gone from 30 in 1960 to more than 2,800 today. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hawaii’s state bird, the Hawaiian goose, or nene, is being proposed for downlisting its status under the Endangered Species Act from “endangered” to “threatened,” according to an announcement Friday from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, the nene is well on its way to recovery,” said Loyal Mehrhoff, endangered species recovery director at the Center for Biological Diversity and former field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Hawaii. “This landmark law helped bring our state bird back from the very edge of extinction. It’s a real testament to the Act’s effectiveness.”

The nene’s numbers have climbed from 30 in 1960 to more than 2,800 today, the agency reported. The nene was first protected in 1967, and the species has benefited from a concerted recovery effort, including captive breeding, predator control and habitat protection.

The birds, 616 of which live on Maui and 35 on Molokai, are believed to have evolved from the Canada goose. The nene once occupied all of the Hawaiian Islands, federal officials said. Other bird populations include 1,095 on the Big Island, 1,107 on Kauai and two on Oahu.

If the species is downlisted to “threatened,” it still would be protected from ongoing threats from non-native predators such as mongooses and cats, habitat destruction and vehicle collisions.

“The nene still faces threats and needs ongoing protection, but the immediate risk of extinction appears to have been reduced,” Mehrhoff said. “The story of the nene is not unique since the Endangered Species Act is working right now to save hundreds of species across the country.”

A 2016 report by the Center for Biological Diversity found that 85 percent of continental birds and 61 percent of Pacific Island species have stabilized or increased after protection under the Endangered Species Act, agency officials said.