Trump’s Endangered Species Rollbacks Target Hawaiian Royal Hawk

Image: © Michael Walther

For native Hawaiians the Hawaiian hawk, or ‘io is a symbol of royalty and is considered an “‘aumakua”—a family or personal god—which made harming or killing this bird taboo. The hawk has also been in a battle for its endangered status listing since the George W. Bush administration.

And while most Hawaiians oppose its delisting, the Trump administration just ruled to do away for protections for this culturally valuable animal–protections that have been in place for 50 years.

The Rub: As the Honolulu Civil Beat explained, the administration pushed to have the hawk completely removed from the list rather than downgraded from endangered to threatened despite concerns that no comprehensive population studies have been performed in more than a decade.

What’s Going On: The ‘io is indigenous to the Hawaiian islands and because of habitat loss has been relegated to only the Big Island. Furthermore, climate change is a growing concern and folks like Suzanne Case, who heads the Department of Land and Natural Resources, submitted public testimony questioning the wisdom of delisting the ‘io completely, saying it seemed “premature.”

For one, she said, the population study the Fish & Wildlife Service relied upon to make its assessment was completed in 2007, and in need of an update.

The History: Both the Bush 43 and Obama administrations presented a delisting proposal for public comment and both administrations decided not to proceed with delisting the hawk after pushback from the public.

According to the Civil Beat:

  • The hawk, which is endemic to Hawaii, was first listed as endangered in 1967. While it used to roam much of the archipelago it is now only found on the Big Island.
  • In 1997, an organization known as the National Wilderness Institute petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to remove the hawk from the endangered species list.
  • But despite its name, the institute, which no longer exists, was anything but a conservation organization. It was formed as part of the so-called wise-use movement that sought to undermine environmental regulations, such as the Endangered Species Act.

Why This Matters: In 2019 the Trump administration gutted the Endangered Species Act and made it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and weaken protections for threatened species, the classification one step below endangered. Delisting the ‘io in 2020 is an example of how easy it is for an anti-environment administration to delist a species despite nebulous information and against the will of citizens. That’s not how the regulatory process is supposed to work, and it will ultimately cripple the government’s ability to protect species and the local economies that depend on them-as well as indigenous communities who cherish them. 

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