Hawaii and whether or not it should be a part of the ABA Area has been a topic of hot debate among North American birders for a long time. It’s an issue which many people have very strong opinions on and a topic which I have had many heated debates about. The topic of Hawaii has been on my mind a lot recently and so I would like to present my take on the issue.
The ABA Area at present is composed of, “the 49 continental United States, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon, and adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less” (from the ABA’s website). This excludes areas such as Bermuda (an overseas territory of the United Kingdom), Hawaii (a US state), and Greenland (an autonomous country owned by Denmark). There has been a lot of talk over the past few years on whether or not these areas (especially Hawaii) should be added. My personal opinion is that they should not. For a start, in my mind (though Jeff Gordon, the ABA’s President, has argued to the contrary) the ABA Area has always been ecologically based. It is designed to include the areas of the continent of North American and is designed represent the bird life of that continent. I believe that is should not be a political construct. That is why I agree with the addition of St. Pierre et Miquelon. Even though it is not part of the two countries of which the ABA Area is mostly composed (the United States and Canada), it is still part of the North American continent and its birdlife is of a North American flavor. However, those in favor of the addition of Hawaii have given the contrary argument that if the ABA Area is trying to represent North American avifauna, then perhaps the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Southeastern Arizona should not count. Both of these areas reflected a distinctly Mexican flavor when it comes to birds and are less “North American” than other areas of the ABA Area. This is a valid concern. However, both of these areas are within larger states in the USA and it doesn’t seem fair or logical to include part of a state but not the rest (Hawaii on the other hand is its own, complete state). Another common argument of those in favor of the expansion of the ABA Area to include Hawaii is that we should include the whole of the US and there is no reason for only 49 out of the 50 US states be part of the ABA Area. This argument doesn’t really make sense to me. By the same logic, mainland France should be a part of the ABA Area as two islands it owns are a part of it. In addition, if Bermuda was added, we would need to add the United Kingdom as well as the thirteen other overseas territories that it supports. This doesn’t seem logical. The most credible pro-Hawaii argument in my eyes, is that adding Hawaii would draw attention to the plight of the many endangered birds found on the island. The perils of some of these birds cannot be stressed enough. According to the American Bird Conservancy, “the islands once supported 113 bird species found nowhere else… since the arrival of humans, however, 71 bird species have been lost.” The rate of extinction in the Hawaiian Island chain is off the charts and the many imperiled species there need every last bit of support that they can get. While I don’t think that adding Hawaii to the ABA Area would do a huge amount to help conserve the state’s many endangered birds, it could certainly increase the ecotourism industry of the islands as well as bring the plight of Hawaii’s birds to the mind of people in America and Canada.
An I’iwi, one of the many unique bird species found in Hawaii. (Photo via HarmonyonPlanetEarth/Flickr Creative Commons)
I also think Hawaiian birders should have more representation in the ABA. Many people think that inclusion of Hawaii would help that. However, there have been noticeably strides within the ABA to make Hawaii feel included. For example, there was an article recently in Listing Central about a Big Year in Hawaii. In addition, the July 2012 issue of Birding included an article about Elepaio taxonomy. Finally, one of the reasons why I am against Hawaii’s inclusion is because of the effects that it would have on listing. This is a fairly trivial complaint, especially when compared with the extinction of endemic Hawaiian birds, but it is a complaint none the less. If Hawaii was added, it would suddenly become fair game for ABA Area Big Years. As a consequence of this, Neil Hayward’s record set last year would be destroyed instantly and the records set by him and Sandy Komito before him would become minuscule in comparison to the new record. So, for the sake of the sport of listing, I am opposed to Hawaii’s inclusion in the ABA Area. No discussion of Hawaii’s position in the ABA Area would be complete without at least mentioning the ABA’s 2012 (non binding) referendum on what areas should be added to the ABA Area. In the vote, 53% of people polled, supported Hawaii’s inclusion into the ABA Area. This doesn’t mean it will happen of course, but it does mean that the majority of the ABA Public is against me. In conclusion, I would like to state what I think should happen to Hawaii. While I don’t think it should be added to the ABA Area, I also don’t think its current position in the eyes of the ABA is acceptable. As such, I think that an additional listing area should be created and administered by the ABA which would be composed of the state of Hawaii. This area should have its own checklist and changes to that checklist should be made by the ABA Checklist Committee. In addition, I think that there needs to be an authoritative field guide to the Birds of Hawaii written as well as probably an ABA/Lane Birdfinding Guide. This would bring attention to Hawaii and its ecological crisis as well as potentially increasing ecotourism and making Hawaiians more included in the ABA. In short, I think that everything possible needs to be done to make Hawaii and Hawaiian birders represented and a part of the ABA, except actually adding Hawaii to the ABA listing area. Works Cited or Referenced: “ABA Area – ABA Listing Central.” ABA Listing Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. http://listing.aba.org/aba-area/ Gordon, Jeff. “The ABA Area in 2012-What Should Be In and What Should Be Out?” ABA Blog. American Birding Association, 31 July 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. http://blog.aba.org/2012/07/aba-area-2012.html Lebbin, Daniel J., Mike Parr, and George H. Fenwick. The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2010. Print. Tanino, Lance. “A Big Year, Hawaii 2013 – ABA Listing Central.” ABA Listing Central. American Birding Association, 2 July 2013. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. http://listing.aba.org/big-year-hawaii-2013/ VanderWerf, Eric. “Meet the ‘Elepaios.” Birding July 2012: 34-45. Web. Gordon, Jeff. “The ABA Area Referendum Results: What’s Your Take?” ABA Blog. American Birding Association, 8 Dec. 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. http://blog.aba.org/2012/12/expansion-referendum-results.html