Hawaiian damselfly
Image: Dan Polhemus, USFWS Pacific

Twenty native plant species and three types of damselflies–described as “living jewels” by Hawaii entomologist Steven Montgomery–have gained protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has heightened the likelihood the 23 endangered species will survive on Oahu by designating 42,804 acres as critical habitat. Two-thirds of the acreage, which includes tropical forests and coastal wetlands, is government-owned.

“It’s great to know our government is acting to secure home lands for a few more Oahu settlers arriving so long before we humans,” Montgomery said, noting that conservation managers will focus on restoring seven different types of ecosystems, which will benefit other native species, too.

Marjorie Ziegler, director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii, said she always has “mixed feelings” when native plants and animals are added to the endangered species list.

“On the one hand, we absolutely must list these species if they are at risk of going extinct,” she said. “Listing brings awareness, concern and actions, in addition to a commitment by the federal government to recover these species to the point they are no longer threatened or endangered. On the other hand, I am always sad to read about the listing rules because it shows that we are still struggling to protect our natural resources and wild places.”

Hawaii now has 460 species on the endangered species list–more than any other state. “This is not something I am proud of,” Ziegler said. “Until we get serious about controlling invasive species, predators and diseases, we will always find ourselves behind the eight-ball when it comes to protecting our unique natural and cultural heritage of the islands.”

An annual herb, shrubs, trees and a fern are among the protected species, along with the crimson, blackline and oceanic Hawaiian damselflies. “What is special about local damselflies is they are such a pretty and amazing clan,” Montgomery said.