Facing extinction due in large part to the effects of climate change, the ‘i’iwi — a scarlet honeycreeper only found in Hawaii — will receive federal protection as a threatened species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.

Once common from mauka to makai throughout the islands, the small red bird is now found almost exclusively in high-elevation forests on Maui and the Big Island. The population on Kauai has plummeted 92 percent over the past 25 years and the bird is almost completely gone from Lanai, Oahu and Molokai.

Lost habitat and mosquitoes carrying avian diseases and malaria are to blame. The ‘i’iwi are no longer in places that mosquitoes thrive, which is why they have found refuge in koa and ohia forests above 3,600 feet.

But as the planet warms, the mosquitoes’ range increases, further constricting the space available for the ‘i’iwi.

The ‘i’iwi, a scarlet honeycreeper endemic to Hawaii, has received federal protection as a threatened species. Courtesy: Bettina Arrigoni/Flickr

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the birds’ protection in 2010. The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement Tuesday that it determined the threatened listing was warranted under the Endangered Species Act based on a review of the best information available for the ‘i‘iwi.

“In recent years, the ‘i‘iwi population has been in sharp decline, due to threats from habitat loss, invasive species and avian diseases, particularly avian malaria,” said Mary Abrams, project leader for the service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. “These threats have affected all forest birds, not just the ‘i‘iwi. Conservation that benefits the ‘i‘iwi will undoubtedly benefit other Hawaiian forest birds.” 

In the last two centuries, 17 of the 41 species of Hawaiian honeycreeper have gone extinct, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Fourteen others are endangered. Cats, rats and pigs have devastated the birds along with the mosquitoes. 

The national Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement that it was pleased with the decision to protect the ‘i’iwi, along with a Southeast fish called the pearl darter and the Sonoyta mud turtle found in Arizona. 

“We’re thrilled these three endangered species are finally getting the protections they so desperately need to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the center. “We worried that Trump administration political appointees would block the Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting any species, but for at least these three, this is a good day.” 

The final listing rule will be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. Fish and Wildlife Service said the next steps include development of a recovery plan that will include input from other government agencies, conservation groups and the public.

“Working with the state, our conservation partners and the public will be crucial as we work to recover the ‘i‘iwi,” said Abrams.

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