Sunday, March 03, 2024|
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A state judge has ruled in favor of a plan to import mosquitoes to Maui to protect endangered native birds.
In 2021, several state, federal and private agencies partnered to form “Birds, Not Mosquitoes,” an initiative to release specially treated mosquitoes into the wild to reduce the spread of avian malaria, a disease that has ravaged several native bird species and brought them close to extinction.
The plan — by which the imported mosquitoes would be rendered infertile through a bacterial infection, and thus prevent local mosquito populations from reproducing before dying — was challenged in 2023 by Maui nonprofit Hawaii United, which filed a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the Department of Land and Natural Resources to halt the mosquitoes’ release on Maui.
While Hawaii United argued that the DLNR had prematurely accepted a final environmental assessment for the project, First Circuit Court Judge John M. Tonaki ruled on Tuesday the DLNR had complied with the state’s environmental requirements.
“This is a victory for our endangered forest birds who some native Hawaiians consider their ancestors,” said DLNR Chair Dawn Chang in a statement. “Historically, mosquitoes were absent from higher elevations due to cooler temperatures. However, climate change has warmed these elevations which now provides favorable conditions for mosquitoes to spread avian malaria to this vulnerable bird species.”
While the project will be deployed on Maui to protect species such as kiwikiu, ‘akohekohe, and others, the DLNR eventually plans to also release mosquitoes on the Big Island to protect species such as the palila, or Hawaiian honeycreeper, which is endangered.
“Extinction is forever, but for our last remaining forest birds on Maui, it doesn’t have to be inevitable,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawaii and Pacific Islands director and staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “The court made clear that Hawaii will not sit back and watch our forest fall silent.”
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