On April 2, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposed downlisting the Hawaiian goose (Branta sandvicensis), locally known as the “nene,” from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The Service also proposed adopting a special rule pursuant to ESA section 4(d), known as a “section 4(d) rule,” allowing incidental take of nene for particular conservation and law enforcement functions.

The nene was federally listed as endangered in 1967, after the population fell below 30 individuals on Hawaii’s Big Island.  The Service instituted a captive-rearing program to rebuild the wild population and subsequently published a Nene Recovery Plan that set a delisting objective at 2,250 individuals spread between the islands of Hawaii and Maui.  This captive-rearing program ran until 2011, and the population of nene across multiple islands now numbers 2,855 individuals.  Given the increase in population numbers due to the captive-rearing program and other conservation efforts, the Service concluded the nene is no longer in danger of extinction throughout all of its range.  However, the Service found that significant threats to the nene remain, including lack of suitable breeding and flocking habitat, predation by introduced mammals, and increased interactions with human activities.  As such, the Service concluded the nene should be reclassified from endangered to threatened under the ESA, as opposed to being removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species.

In addition to the proposed downlisting, the Service also proposed adopting a rule under ESA section 4(d) allowing “take” of nene (as defined under section 9 of the ESA) for three specific classes of activities: (1) hazing or intentional harassment of nene that is not likely to cause direct injury or mortality, when conducted by landowners attempting to manage wildlife conflicts; (2) incidental take of nene through activities designed either to help control the populations of introduced predators of nene, or to help manage nene habitat; and (3) actions taken by law enforcement officers related to injured, sick, or dead nene.  The Service determined that allowing these activities would facilitate continued conservation of nene and the expansion of their range, without causing any significant impact to nene populations as a whole.

The Proposed Rule states that the Service is accepting comments on the proposed downlisting and section 4(d) rule until June 1, 2018.