Draft environmental assessment prepared for pilot release of Hawaiian crow in east Maui

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October 28, 2023


ʻAlalā, or Hawaiian crow, is extinct in the wild, but a pilot release program in East Maui may change that status. PC: San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

The Hawaiʻi State Division of Forestry and Wildlife has prepared a draft Environmental Assessment with the US Fish and Wildlife Service for a pilot release of ʻalalā, or Hawaiian crow, in east Maui.

The draft is available for public comment through Nov. 29.

The ʻalalā is historically found on Hawai’i Island and currently survives only in captivity at two conservation breeding centers, one on Hawai‘i Island and one in east Maui.

Since 1992, there have been three translocation attempts to release ʻalalā on Hawaiʻi Island, one on the leeward side of the island in the 1990s and two translocations using different approaches at Puʻu Makaʻala Natural Areas Reserve on windward Hawai‘i from 2016 to 2020. The attempts were unsuccessful, largely due to predation of released ʻalalā by the ʻio, Hawaiian hawk.

While the forest conditions in east Maui are typically wetter than the ʻalalā’s historic habitat, east Maui also provides habitat free of ‘io.

The ʻAlalā Project on Maui is a collaborative effort to understand habitat needs and release methods for ‘alalā to survive and breed in the wild. This effort will be applied to recovery of the species and the return of ‘alalā to its cultural roles in the forests of Hawai‘i.

The draft Environmental Assessment evaluates Kīpahulu Forest Reserve and Koʻolau Forest Reserve as potential release sites and also considers impacts to adjacent private and National Park Service lands.

Partners involved in the coordination of the pilot release are: Haleakalā National Park, the University of Hawaiʻi Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, ʻAlalā Project and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

The multi-stakeholder pilot project would allow managers to evaluate whether ʻalalā will breed in wet forests in east Maui and have better survival in habitat where ‘io are absent.

The draft provides background information concerning methods for release of ‘alalā and outlines the proposed action, potential impacts, and strategies to avoid and minimize potential negative effects of the pilot release within the project area of east Maui.

The endangered ‘alalā are connected to essential aspects of Hawaiian forest life. The seeds they eat and disperse support native plant species, and their reintroduction would play an important part in the overall recovery of the Hawaiian forest ecosystem. In Hawaiian culture, ʻalalā are regarded as ʻaumākua and of importance to Native Hawaiian religious and cultural practices.

The ʻalalā arrived in Hawaiʻi before human settlement and adapted to Hawaiʻi’s unique environments. They are very intelligent and Hawaiʻi’s only surviving native crow species.There are now more than 110 ʻalalā in captivity. Due to the amazing success of the captive breeding program, this is a sustainable source of birds for release, according to information on the ʻAlalā Project website.

The draft Environmental Assessment is available at: dlnr.hawaii.gov/dofaw/comment/. The website contains a form that may be used to submit comments to the Resource Agencies.

  • The 37-day public comment period opened on Oct. 23 and closes on Nov. 29, 2023.
  • Public comments may also be emailed directly to thealalaproject@gmail.com or mailed to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Attn: ʻAlalā Project, 1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 325, Honolulu, HI 96813.

A public meeting will be conducted Nov. 8 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Kula Community Center, E. Lower Kula Rd. in Kula. Resource agency staff and partners will be present to speak with community members about the project and provide technical assistance with submission of public comments.

All public comments must be submitted or postmarked by Nov. 29, 2023.