Consider This...

By MaryYoung

Science Goes Native

High school biology was not easy for me. I puzzled through the lectures, bumbled through the labs. I passed the course, but never really understood what was going on.

It was always that way with science classes, going back to second grade. My mother had a simple explanation. “Some people just don’t get science,” she said. Yes, that was me.

But I have a healthy respect for those who do get science, especially those who work in a field like environmental science. One such person is Christen Mitchell, a planner for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Mitchell is coordinating a state project that could bring hundreds of thousands of federal dollars to a dismally under-funded effort: preserving Hawaii’s native species.

The project, called the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, is a strategic plan to help species that are most in need of conservation. The funds are provided through the State Wildlife Grants Program, established by Congress to support projects that prevent wildlife from declining to the point of becoming endangered. The idea is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Recovery efforts for a species that is on the brink of extinction are very expensive (and often futile).

Here in Hawaii, the “species of greatest need” are our native species, many of which are endemic (found nowhere else in the world). On Oahu, the latter category includes two forest birds – the Oahu elepaio and the Oahu amakihi – and the Oahu tree snail.

It seems remarkable that our urban island has any surviving endemic species at all. And it’s no coincidence that they dwell in the upland forests, while we humans cluster near the coasts.

Each state must complete its strategy by October 1, 2005. Funds are allocated using a formula based on the state’s size and population. Hawaii expects to receive about $800,000 – far short of what is needed, says Mitchell. The state is required to match the funds.

According to information on the project’s web page (, Hawaii’s strategy will provide information on the species and their habitats; describe the threats to these species and habitats; and propose conservation actions and monitoring methods.

Two agencies within DLNR – the Division of Forestry & Wildlife and Division of Aquatic Resources – are taking the lead. But the project is a collaborative effort among government agencies, non-government organizations, and private landowners.

Later this month, DLNR will present workshops to gather public input on the draft plan. They hope to verify and supplement existing data, and also, says Mitchell, to hear cultural stories relating to native wildlife. “In a place like Hawaii, taking care of the land – malama aina – has an intensively cultural aspect,” she said, “And we would like to make sure that our strategy reflects that.”

I asked Mitchell how an interested but non-scientific type like me might prepare for the workshop.

“The best way to prepare would just be to bring your open mind and bring any information you have and just to come and learn,” she said.

I can do that.


Mary Young is the Associate Editor of the Oahu Island News. She can be reached at