Hawaii’s State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP)

Hawaii’s State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP)

An image of two aʻeo flying with the words State Wildlife Action Plan

The 2015 edition of Hawai‘i’s State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) details the strategy and plans of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and its partners to address the conservation needs of over 10,000 species native to Hawai‘i. This is an update of the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS) 2005 plan that was used successfully from 2005-2015 to make significant progress in the conservation of our native wildlife. In keeping with the original plan, this SWAP comprehensively outlines a statewide strategy for conserving native wildlife species, encompassing species found from the mountains to the seas, and from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the Main Hawaiian Islands.

Although progress is being made, the stark reality is that these species and their habitats, many of which are found nowhere else on earth, face tremendous challenges because of habitat loss, the introduction of non-native invasive species, and the adverse effects of a changing climate. More than half of native habitats have been lost, and the introduction of non-native plants, animals, and diseases, like miconia, coqui frog, and West Nile virus, constitutes an ongoing threat to native animals and the very existence of entire species. Hawai‘i’s SWAP calls for working together to turn the tide on the decline of native wildlife and habitats. By building on and incorporating lessons from the conservation and research efforts that have been made thus far, and by applying the best available science, this SWAP establishes statewide objectives and strategies that address the challenges facing our native wildlife and habitats.

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

An image of a palila

Palila. PC: Jacob Drucker

One function of the SWAP is to describe “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” in Hawaiʻi. The process for creating this list is described below, with additional information on these species provided in the SWAP in Chapter 7 as well as in Appendix A: Wildlife (Fauna) Species of Greatest Conservation Need and Appendix B: Plant (Flora) Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

The Hawaiian Islands display a rich biodiversity arising from a variety of factors, including the remoteness of the islands, millions of years of isolation, varying amounts of rainfall, diverse topography, and the pattern of volcanic activity. This biodiversity includes a high percentage of endemic plants and animals. The high level of endemism means that for many species, the responsibility for their continued existence is solely up to us. This is true for both extremely rare species, such as the O‘ahu tree snails Achatinella, as well as for more common species, such as the forest bird ‘apapane (Himatione sanguinea).

Recognizing the need to take action to protect these species, the first step used to identify Hawai‘i’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need was the list of indigenous wildlife of Hawai‘i contained as Exhibit 1 of the Hawai‘i Administrative Rules Chapter 124. This list includes terrestrial mammals and marine mammals and marine reptiles only. Additional native species were identified and added based on their presence on the following lists:

  • the Federal list of threatened, endangered, candidate and concern species (USFWS and NOAA);
  • species protected by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act;
  • the State list of threatened and endangered species;
  • the Checklist of the Birds of Hawai‘i;
  • and species identified as present in Hawai‘i by groups or organizations with significant experience or expertise (e.g., Audubon Watch List; national and regional Bird Plans, such as the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, Waterbird Conservation for the Americas; Regional Seabird Conservation Plan).

For any terrestrial indigenous species not represented by any of the lists, their status as indigenous automatically included them as Hawai‘i’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need. For aquatic fishes and invertebrates only endemic species were added to the list. In addition, the Division of Aquatic Resources also included native species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN) Threatened Red List, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Finally, they developed a Statewide Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Strategy (SAWCS) Advisory Council to advise on additional species that were at risk due to specific threats. The SAWCS Advisory Council is a panel with representatives from federal and state agencies, resource user groups, and non-profit organizations that helps DAR develop its CWCS.

Additional species considered must meet one or more of the following biological criteria:

  • species with low or declining populations;
  • species indicative of the diversity and health of the state’s wildlife;
  • species with small, localized “at-risk” populations;
  • keystone species;
  • indicator species;
  • species with limited dispersal;
  • disjunct species;
  • vulnerable species;
  • species of conservation concern;
  • “responsibility” species, (i.e. species that have their center of range within a state);
  • species with fragmented or isolated populations.

Migratory bird species with irregular or insignificant presence in the State (species for which we would not likely develop management strategies) were not included on the list. Introduced species, which by their nature do not represent the natural biodiversity of the State, are not included.

Including all of Hawai‘i’s native terrestrial species as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” recognizes the uniqueness of Hawai‘i’s natural environment and ensures that information gaps and conservation needs regarding these species are addressed. The preliminary decision to identify “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” in a broad and inclusive manner was made based on consultation with DLNR agency staff and from informal discussions with staff from partner organizations familiar with Hawai‘i’s wildlife. It is believed that developing a Wildlife Strategy for a broad range of Hawai‘i’s native species, rather than focusing on simply those species already identified as threatened and endangered, will best contribute to the long-term protection of Hawai‘i’s overall natural biodiversity.

Hawai‘i’s State Wildlife Action Plan provides information on the distribution and abundance of these species, identifies the location and condition of key habitats for these species, describes the major threats to these species and/or their habitats, proposes conservation actions to conserve these species and their habitats, and recommends methods to monitor the effectiveness of the conservation actions. The Plan itself is structured to present this information on a variety of levels from the landscape and island level to the species level. 

Based on public feedback we also included plants and algae in a Flora Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Flora were chosen as Species of Greatest Conservation Need based on the following criteria:

  • plant species federally listed as threatened, endangered, or as a candidate for listing;
  • plant species identified as Genetic Safety Net (GSN) plants (i.e., plants with less than 50 individuals);
  • plant species identified as important elements of native habitats;
  • endemic aquatic plants; and
  • endemic terretrial and aquatic algae.

To learn more about Species of Greatest Conservation Need, visit our fact sheets.