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For Immediate Release, January 23, 2012

Contact:  Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495 
Dr. Tony Povilitis, (520) 384-3886

Beautiful Hawaiian Bird One Step Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

 Climate Change Threatens 'I'iwi

PORTLAND, Ore.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Dr. Tony Povilitis, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued an initial positive decision to protect the ‘i‘iwi — or scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper — under the Endangered Species Act. The agency will now conduct a thorough review of the bird’s status and decide whether it will be protected under the Act. The initial positive decision was made in accordance with a landmark settlement agreement reached in 2011 between the Center for Biological Diversity and Fish and Wildlife that requires protection decisions for 757 species. Although currently one of the more abundant of the last Hawaiian honeycreepers, the ‘i‘iwi is severely threatened by a combination of habitat destruction, disease and climate change.

“At least 20 types of Hawaiian honeycreepers have already gone extinct,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species program director. “To have any chance at avoiding that fate, the beautiful ‘i‘iwi needs protection now.”

The ‘i‘iwi was once widespread throughout the Hawaiian Islands, but is now primarily restricted to high-elevation areas on the Big Island, Maui and Kauai because of a combination of habitat destruction and the spread of avian pox and malaria by mosquitoes. The ‘i‘iwi has survived at high elevations, primarily over 3,600 feet, because it is too cold there for mosquitoes and the deadly diseases they spread; but with climate change mosquitoes are moving uphill and are predicted to cover most remaining ‘i‘iwi habitat as the climate continues to warm.

“Saving the ‘i‘iwi and tens of thousands of other species requires immediate action to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said Greenwald. “If we don’t make those cuts, we’re looking at the permanent loss of about one-third of all the species in the world by 2050. The ‘i‘iwi’s likely to be one of them.”

With its fiery-red body, quick black wings and long, curved, salmon-colored bill, the ‘i‘iwi is one of the most recognizable birds of Hawaii.

“It would be a tragedy of epic proportions to lose the ‘i‘iwi,” said Dr. Tony Povilitis, the primary author of the petition. “Much can be done to help the ‘i‘iwi survive a warmer world. In particular, more high-elevation forest habitats need to be protected and restored.”

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