Back in 1997, the conservative National Wilderness Institute petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Hawaiian hawk, or 'io (Buteo solitarius), from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The fws finally moved forward on the proposal in February, asking for public comments on the pending delisting.
The hawk joined the endangered species list in 1967, fewer than six months after passage of the original Endangered Species Preservation Act, the predecessor to the current ESA. The only modern hawk native to Hawaii, the 'io, in 1967, was limited to just a small portion of Hawaii Island (aka the Big Island). The original causes of its decline are unknown, but today it has expanded its range across nearly 60 percent of the island.
More than 40 years of legal protection and recovery efforts seem to have helped the Hawaiian hawk. Since 1967 the species' population has grown to around 3,000—a number that seems to have been stable since 1998 despite continued urbanization on the Big Island and risks from invasive species.
But the newspaper West Hawaii Today found that many Hawaiians do not think the 'io should be delisted. The owner of an animal sanctuary told the paper that people still shoot the birds—she recently rehabilitated two hawks that had been shot with a BB gun—and that their habitat continues to shrink. One Hawaiian cultural practitioner said he sees the birds less often than he did 10 or 20 years ago. The hawks are valued in Hawaiian culture as a symbol of royalty.
Even if the hawk is delisted, it will be protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a 1918 federal law. The fws would also act as a monitor for at least five years to make sure that new threats do not emerge—oversight that is needed. Hawaii is, after all, known as the “extinction capital of the world.”