Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge
Kauai, Hawaii, February 2002
Copyright 2003, Roddy Scheer
Encircled by waterfall-draped mountains, the 917-acre Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1972 to provide habitat for endangered Hawaiian waterbirds such as the Coot, Stilt, Koloa, and Nene. For more than a millennium, farmers on Kauai and the other Hawaiian islands have cultivated taro to provide poi, a staple of the Hawaiian diet. Meanwhile, the endangered native waterbirds have come to depend on taro farms as ideal habitat in the face of increasing human development elsewhere throughout Hawaii…
With waterbird numbers waning in recent years, the traditional taro fields have taken on an increasingly important role as critical habitat for these endangered species, highlighting an uneasy equilibrium between human agricultural development and environmental protection.
In recent years there have been rumblings within the Fish & Wildlife Service to disallow all human economic development within the confines of federal parklands, which could be bad news for Hawaii’s waterbirds. Much of the refuge lands throughout the islands have been farmed for taro for centuries, and many environmentalists insist that taro farming should be allowed to continue providing land managers with an economically productive way to promote the survival of the endangered birds. Yet more conservative conservationists maintain that protecting wildlands should not include human activity, so the debate rages on—and waterbird populations continue to decline.
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