New & Noteworthy

Undocumented Birds: There’s a new bird on Maui, and it arrived without any by-your-leave from the state. The golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus) was probably brought into the state sometime in the early 1990s and is now breeding in Waikamoi Preserve, managed by The Nature Conservancy of Hawai`i, and likely the state’s Hanawi Natural Area Reserve as well.

In an article in the April issue of Pacific Science, Ruby Hammond, of the Biological Sciences Department in Northern Arizona University, reports on what she was able to learn about the release of the species through discussions with researchers, land managers, and hunting guides. The first sighting of a golden pheasant at Waikamoi was made in 1996, she writes, and the first evidence of breeding in the wild came in 2010, with the collection of a juvenile male.

A male bird was detected in the area of Manawainui, part of Haleakala National Park, about 7 miles from the preserve, in 2005 and 2006, although it has not been seen since, she writes. Starting in 2008, biologists with the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project began to see golden pheasants at Hanawi.

Hammond speculates that the initial release occurred at Waikamoi, which is far closer to a public recreation area than the two other sites. The present range of the birds today is around 40 hectares at Waikamoi and 6.5 hectares at Hanawi, she estimates.

The species is native to the mountains of Central China. As early as 1865, bird fanciers in Hawai`i introduced it to O`ahu and Kaua`i, but it never became established. Hammond notes that it was also introduced – without success – to Canada, New Zealand, Colombia, Tahiti, as well as Washington, California, Oregon, Texas, and Illinois. Only in Great Britain did the introductions meet with some limited success, she writes.

The male of the species has striking plumage, with a gold head and scarlet body. Its tail accounts for two-thirds of its total length, which can be up to a meter. Female coloration is much more subdued.

Shift In Big Island Planning Dept.: Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd, who served four and a half years as the Hawai`i County Planning Department director, is returning to the position she held before, that of director of the county’s Department of Environmental Management.

As readers of Environment Hawai`iwill know, Leithead-Todd made several highly controversial decisions. These include her approval of a planned unit development for Waikaku`u (overturned by 3rd Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra), another PUD approval for Puako 1010 (which, challenged by the Mauna Lani Resort Association, is now being withdrawn), and her lax oversight of developer Scott Watson.

Replacing her as the Planning Department’s head will be Duane Kanuha. He served in that post some 20 years ago and has since then been advising developers in North Kohala. Kanuha was also appointed by former Governor Linda Lingle to the state Land Use Commission. He was one of just two commissioners who voted against reversion of the `Aina Le`a land to the state Agriculture District.

Kanuha’s presence on the LUC was the subject of a lawsuit when, after the state Senate refused to approve his nomination, he continued to participate in decisions. His vote on the Koa Ridge development in 2010 was decisive. The Sierra Club, Hawai`i Chapter, appealed the approval because of Kanuha’s participation. (A Circuit Court judge agreed with the Sierra Club – but the LUC later went on to approve the project when it came before the commission again.)

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