Hawaii’s incredible native diversity is a world renowned biological treasure, but in recent decades, our state has become the “extinction capital of the world.” Hawai‘i is home to the largest number of federally listed threatened or endangered plant and animal species in the United States. Some 343 listed plant and 394 listed animal species occur as dwindling populations in isolated refugia, and face a growing list of precarious threats.
The socio-political, economic, demographic, and agricultural changes that have characterized the last two centuries have greatly accelerated the loss of native habitat and associated species, invasion by non-native invasive species, novel disturbances such as fire and climate change, and the degradation of traditional connections linking people to landscapes. Within the lifetimes of our children, Hawai‘i may lose most of her remaining native forests, impacting native species, ecosystem services, and traditional cultural practices that those native forests support.
The ramifications of this ecological loss extend beyond that of endangered species to affect the people of Hawai‘i directly. Degradation of the integrity, vitality, and wholeness of native ecosystems diminishes our state’s cultural diversity and richness. Because of the deep human relationships and history defining Hawaiian landscapes and seascapes, loss of native ecosystems compromises the identity and well being of all of Hawaii’s citizens.
As we face the environmental challenges of the twenty-first century that have correlated to a declining connection to the land, Native Hawaiian examples of resource stewardship provide important insights and potential solutions. There is hope to protect what remains, but our time is running out.