State officials are seeking public comment on a plan to bring the world’s first attempt at landscape-scale mosquito control to Kauai.

State officials on Friday published a widely anticipated draft environmental assessment of a plan to intervene in malaria’s death march to save the endangered akikikiakekee and puaiohi, as well as five other at-risk forest bird species, on Kauai.

The new draft, which will be open to public comment through July 24, encourages the deployment of a conservation tool dubbed “mosquito birth control” to suppress mosquitoes on 60,000 acres of mountainous terrain in the Kokee and Alakai Wilderness areas of Kauai to inhibit the invasive insect’s ability to produce fertile offspring.

apapane, mosquito, forest birds, avian malaria
A mosquito bites the face of an Apapane, a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper that is endemic to the islands. (Courtesy: Jack Jefferey Photography/2019)

Published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the plan, if approved by state and federal regulators, would set Hawaii on course to pioneer the world’s first conservation use of landscape-scale mosquito control. 

Mosquitoes infected with avian malaria can kill a bird with a single bite, contributing to steep declines in populations of native honeycreepers statewide.

Earlier this year state health regulators found there are no environmental stumbling blocks in conservationists’ similar plan to crash the mosquito population in native forest bird habitat on Maui — a win in the time-sensitive effort to save Hawaii’s imperiled honeycreepers.

The project targets Maui as a starting gate because it hosts two of the birds at highest risk of being lost forever

Kauai is next in line for intervention because, looking statewide, its birds face the second-highest level of risk.

Scientists have so far collected wild southern house mosquitoes from high-elevation forests on Maui, Kauai and Oahu where native honeycreepers live and, in a California lab, those bugs have been inoculated with a bacterium called Wolbachia.  

The southern house mosquito, and most insects in the world, already carry one of five strains of Wolbachia in their reproductive tract. But scientists are finding that if they drain the southern house mosquito of its natural bacterium strain and infect it with a different strain sourced from another species of Hawaii mosquito, they’ll achieve a new form of mosquito birth control.

In addition to approval from the Hawaii Health Department, scientists need a green light from the Environmental Protection Agency to move these projects forward. 

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