Alternative to Wasteful Aerial Eradication
Feral ungulates (sheep, mouflon, and cattle) are eradicated by Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DLNR-DOFAW) to save the endangered Palila (Hawaiian Honeycreeper) species and its habitat (MKRUG) (US Fish & Wildlife). Ungulate eradications are wasteful as carcasses not available for recovery are left to decompose (Miller, DLNR plans). Additionally, considering high costs of food in Hawaii, there must be alternative options to control ungulate populations that will benefit Hawaii residents in return. A game management plan for Palila habitat areas that will benefit the existence of the Palila species and feral ungulates together is essential.
Palila are protected by the Endangered Species Act (US Fish & Wildlife). The Palila species depend on mamane forests as its diet consists of 90% immature mamane seeds (Stewart 62). Thus, environmental studies proclaim Palila habitats to be threatened by the grazing of feral ungulates, droughts and the risk of wildfires (MKRUG) (Stewart 29).
Feral cattle were introduced in 1793, sheep situated on Mauna Kea around 1825, and mouflon were released between 1962 and 1966 (Stewart 61-62) (Hess, Jacobi). Feral cattle, sheep and mouflon are grazing animals, any vegetation they feed on (young mamane trees included) is eaten to the ground directly affecting Palila habitats (Stewart 62).
As populations of feral ungulates continued to rise, the Hawaii Territorial government installed fencing around the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve area between 1935 to 1937; efforts to control ungulate populations started as early as 1934 (Stewart, 62). Positive results were demonstrated as sheep populations were reduced drastically from 40,000 head in the 1930s to approximately 200 head in 1950 (Stewart, 62). However, environmental groups such as Hawaii Audubon Society and various bird experts continually declare feral ungulates as the number one cause for the decline in Palila bird populations (MKRUG). The current Palila population is estimated at 2,200 birds; roughly a 66% decline within the last decade (Earthjustice).
In 1955, sustained yield management efforts were initiated by means of public hunting to continue feral ungulate population management (Stewart, 62). The thought of a sustained yield management was to have roughly the same number of animals harvested each year (CALS). Public hunting efforts maintained feral ungulate populations to approximately 1,000 to 4,000 head annually (Stewart, 61). However, as fencing at the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve is not maintained, ungulates continue to have negative effects on mamane forests (Hess, Jacobi) (Stewart 62). However, feral ungulates should not be eradicated as they are not the only threat to the existence of Palila.
Wildfires are also a risk and without grazing ungulates, grasses and weeds will accumulate posing an increase of fire hazards (Stewart, 66). Should a fire ignite, it...