Federal funds available for protecting plant, animal habitats

Funding said unrelated to Critical Habitat program

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is making available to private property owners in Hawai’i $1.73 million in grants to help protect endangered animal and plant species, and their habitats.

Kaua’i’ property owners are eligible for the funds. For Hawai’i projects to be launched, the state landowners or non-profit groups must chip in at least 25 percent of the cost of projects, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said.

The grants would complement ongoing conservation programs being conducted in Hawai’i.

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton recently announced the availability of the grant funds through the “Landowner Incentive Program.”

Hawai’i state has promised to match the federal grant with $721,276, with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources funding a total of 15 landowners on 105,140 acres throughout the state.

How much grant funds would come to Kaua’i and how many acres on Kaua’i would benefit from the program is likely to be known after a private landowner applies for the funding.

The grant funds are expected to be used for the installation of fences, the removal of feral pigs and goats from critical habitat areas, the creation of on-site seed sources for endangered plant species and the operation of a “rotational grazing program” to benefit the Hawaiian goose.

These projects were recommended to Fish and Wildlife by private landowners in Hawai’i.

The projects, if implemented, could help preserve more than 60 wildlife species and 248 plant species, Norton said.

“In Hawai’i and across America, wildlife conservation must be a partnership between the government and the people,” Norton said in a news release. “This is especially true with threatened and endangered species, half of which depend on private lands for the majority of their habitat.”

Norton said the program will result in defraying the costs of habitat improvements for imperiled species on private lands in Hawai’i.

“The objective of the program is to provide technical and financial assistance to landowners to protect and restore habitats on the island (Kaua’i),” said Barbara Amidon, a fish and wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Portland, Ore.

Among Amidon responsibilities is the protection of natural resources in Hawai’i.

Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Interior, of which Fish and Wildlife is a part, is providing $34.8 million in grants to states through the grant program.

The program supports the Bush’s administration “Cooperative Conservation Initiative,” which includes conservation grant programs to help conservation organizations, landowners and Native American tribes with conservation projects and programs.

President Bush had initially proposed $113.2 million in the fiscal year 2004 budget for his initiative program.

Amidon said it is her belief the grant proposal is separate from an initial proposal by Fish and Wildlife to establish critical habitat designations for plants on 99,000 acres on Kaua’i and Ni’ihau.

Fish and Wildlife was required by a court order to establish the designations after the agency had developed a list of endangered plants and animals in Hawai’i for protection.

Amidon said it is her understanding that the new federal grant program is not connected with Fish and Wildlife’s habitat designation proposal.

If a Kaua’i landowner accepts the federal grant funds, the landowner would continue to retain control of the land on which the funded-project occurs, Amidon said.

Related to the proposed habitat designation project, residents have voiced concerns that they could lose control of their lands if the designations are established on their land.

But Fish and Wildlife officials have said the designations don’t affect activities on state or private lands unless a federal permit, license or funding is involved.

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