New & Noteworthy: Albatrosses, Ants, and an Agricultural Liaison

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Black-footed Albatross Not Endangered: That’s the final determination of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to a petition to list the species Phoebastria nigripes as endangered. The petition was filed seven years ago by Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity, prompted in part by the decision of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to change the bird’s status from “vulnerable” to “endangered.”

According to the FWS notice of the decision, published October 7 in the Federal Register, since the IUCN reclassification, several regulations imposed on the U.S. longline fishing industry over the last decade by the National Marine Fisheries Service have “been effective in increasing survivorship” of birds accidentally caught.

Other risks considered by the FWS include ingestion of plastics, effects of mercury and chemical contaminants, and rising sea level and the anticipated impact on habitat.

“The service acknowledges the presence of threats to the black-footed albatross,” it said in a press release, “but finds the scientific data available are insufficient to demonstrate that these threats are having any population-level effect on the species, such that it would meet the definition of a threatened or endangered species.”

The total number of breeding pairs of black-footed albatross stood at just over 67,000 in 2010. The vast majority (64,000) breed on atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The other population inhabits Torishima island and several smaller Japanese islands.

Oh, Those Odorous Ants: Tapinoma sessile, a.k.a. the odorous house ant, is moving up in the world – or, more specifically, it is moving up Maui.

The ant is native to North America. Its discovery in June 2009 near Kula, Maui, was the first time it had been detected outside its home range, according to Grzegorz Buczkowski of Purdue University and Paul Krushelnycky of the University of Hawai`i, as they report in an online edition of Myrmecological News, devoted to the study of ants. After surveying more than 2,600 locations in the Kula area, they determined that the ants probably belonged to one giant supercolony, ranging over 42 acres.

“Because the odorous house ant ranges as far north as southern Canada and occurs at elevations over 4,000 meters in North America,” the authors write, “there is serious cause for concern that, unlike most invasive ant species in Hawai`i, it will be capable of invading high elevation habitats.”

Just how the ant arrived here is unknown. Among the species of ants intercepted by quarantine workers in Hawai`i and New Zealand, the odorous house ant is a rarity – but this, write Buczkowski and Krushelnycky, may simply be because the ant “is not very common in the regions that ship the majority of goods” to these destinations.

Still, given the fact that the ant has become “a much more common urban nuisance” in recent years, the authors write, “we believe that T. sessile should be watched for closely by quarantine officials.”

Laura Thielen, Liaison: The former director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has a new office now, just steps from her old one. Thielen was recently appointed as Honolulu’s agricultural liaison by Mayor Peter Carlisle.

According to a news release issued by the mayor’s office, the liaison “will become the city’s first point of contact regarding agricultural issues, [will] enable the city to capitalize on agricultural funding opportunities provided by state and federal agencies, and [will] work with the state on issues of mutual concern.”

The position was created by the City Council, which allocated $70,000 a year for the position. According to the mayor’s spokesperson Louise Kim McCoy, the civil-service exempt position was advertised on the county’s website. 

Correction: In our September edition, we erred when we stated that a federal judge had forbidden the state to regulate boating in Kaua`i’s Hanalei Bay. Judge Helen Gillmor instead found that the state’s regulations on commercial boating violated both “the doctrine on conflict pre-emption based on the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution” and the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. She did not, however, find that the state could not regulate boating at all. Thank you, BR, for bringing this to our attention.

Volume 22, Number 5 — November 2011

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