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Saving the Nene Goose

In this section, I will tell a story about a subject that is very near to my heart. Having lived in Hawaii, myself, three different times when I was young (before I met Kay and we decided to make California our permanent home), I had the great fortune of having several close encounters in the wild with the native Hawaiian goose, better known as the Nene Goose (pronounced Nay-Nay).

These were awesome and memorable experiences, made all the more exhilarating by the fact that I was a stamp collector who specialized in duck stamps – and one of my all-time favorites was the 1964-65 federal (RW31) whose artwork was created by Stanley Stearns (see Figure 1).

 

 

Figure 1. A pair of Nene Geese standing in a Hawaiian lava field, as depicted by artist Stanley Stearns.

 

 

It is widely believed (and supported by fossil records) that the “native” Nene came to live in Hawaii as a result of a flock of migrating Canada geese getting blown off course and arriving in the Islands some 500,000 years ago – roughly the same time the youngest of the archipelago (the “Big Island” of Hawaii) had risen above the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

After arriving, the Canadian geese became more terrestrial, undergoing a series of evolutionary adaptations that allowed them to 1) blend into their new (predominantly lava field) environment and 2) better traverse it: The Nene have a black head, with a black stripe continuing down the back of it’s neck. There are also distinctive black striations all around the neck. Unlike other geese, their feet are not completely webbed, the pads on the bottom are thicker and their toes are longer. In addition, as it was no longer necessary to fly south for the winter, their wings became shorter.

Once plentiful, their numbers underwent a steep decline to the point where it seemed likely they would soon become extinct. The story of their survival involves a number of people who played a significant role. Perhaps the best place to start is with Paul Baldwin (see Figure 2).

 

 

Figure 2. Paul H. Baldwin as a Professor of Zoology at Colorado State University, circa 1950s. Courtesy CSU Archives.

 

 

A Man with Keen Powers of Observation

Paul. H Baldwin was born on February 26, 1913, in Berkeley, California to George H. Baldwin and Corrine B. Baldwin. His mother collected seashells and pine cones and introduced Paul to the natural world at a very young age. She taught him to slow down and helped him to develop keen powers of observation. Paul would later attended U.C. Berkeley and, in 1936, he graduated with a B.A. in Zoology (eight years before Starker Leopold would complete his PhD in Zoology there).

After graduating from Berkeley, Baldwin accepted a job with the National Park Service and moved to the Big Island of Hawaii where he served in various capacities as a biologist and park ranger. As it concerns our story, Baldwin was, arguably, the first of our protagonists to bring the plight of the Nene to worldwide attention. This was achieved in 1945, with the publication of his “The Hawaiian Goose, Its Distribution and Reduction in Numbers” in The Condor, a scientific journal devoted to the conservation, management and ecology of birds.

In the landmark paper, Baldwin combined written and oral histories dating back to the 18th century with current information “gathered through visiting known localities of occurrence and interviewing ranchers and other outdoor observers.” The data he produced was sobering…

Whereas the Nene once inhabited a wide range on the Big Island and a somewhat smaller range, (concentrated primarily within the crater and along the slopes of Haleakala) on the island of Maui – their range had decreased dramatically with the increasing arrival of white men starting in the mid 19th century. From 1800 to 1900 their range on the Big Island decreased from an estimated 2,925 square miles to 1,150 – a drop of over 50%. For example, the last report of flocks of any size frequenting the sulphur banks area of Kilauea (and the Volcano House Lodge) was made in 1907. This corresponds well to increased tourism in this area (see Figure 3). By the 1890s, Nene were rarely seen on Maui.

 

 

Figure 3. Souvenir postcard of the sulphur banks, near volcano house, circa 1908.

 

 

Baldwin cites numerous man-made activities: “Exploration, hunting with firearms (hunting was legal during the breeding season until 1907), probable increase in capture of live birds and eggs, flushing and frightening of birds from nests and foraging grounds, sandalwood gathering in the uplands, ranching development and activities (a surprise to many – at 130,000 acres, the Parker Ranch on the Big Island is one of the largest cattle ranches in the U.S.), the building of beach resort homes and military roads in the uplands.”

Added to this list was the introduction of competing species such as goats, sheep, pheasant, quail, guinea hen, jungle fowl, turkey and peafowl and, perhaps more serious, the introduction of nonnative predators: dogs, cats, rats and the deadly mongoose. Mongooses were imported to the islands from India in 1883 by the sugar cane industry in an attempt to control rats in the cane fields. They failed to accomplish this purpose – but had a devastating effect on the Nene population. As the Nene had evolved without mammalian predators, they were easy targets (see Figure 4).

 

 

Figure 4. A mongoose with its favorite snack – a Nene egg.

 

 

Their reduction in numbers was even more startling; Baldwin estimated the number of Nene living in the archipelago to be 25,000 in in the 1700s. According to Baldwin, “The decline may have had a slow beginning in the late 1700s and gradually increased in speed until the high[est] rate of decline was reached around 1850.” The bottom line – when Baldwin published his paper in 1945, he reported the total number of surviving Nene to be less than 50 birds (It should be noted subsequent estimates have placed the number a bit higher, perhaps closer to 60, at during this time).

Baldwin ended with this appraisal; “The future of the Nene is uncertain. With no protection other than that of laws which prohibit shooting or molesting of the Nene, there is little prospect it will survive the present day development of the island.”

 

The Schwartzes Move to Hawaii

After Baldwin’s paper was published, Colin Lennox, the President of the Board of Agriculture and Forestry in the Territory of Hawaii, contacted Aldo Leopold for a recommendation and he named the Schwartzes from Missouri. According to Libby’s memoir, “[Then] everything happened very fast.”

On January 16, 1946, the Missouri Conservation Commission granted Charles a two-year leave of absence to move to Hawaii and work for the Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Hawaii. Charles and Libby did not even have time to visit their family; they packed their belongings, took Barbara and Bruce with them and drove all the way to San Fransisco in order to board the S.S. Lurline – which was departing for Honolulu on January 30.

The voyage was quick and within a week the Schwartz family had arrived on the Big Island. Similar to their work with the prairie chickens, their first goal was to acquire a vegetation map of the Islands. Once this was located, they set about their mission:

“Our job was to survey the game birds that were native or introduced into Hawaii and to determine where they lived, their approximate densities and actual numbers, what they ate, when they reproduced, and what was their survival rate.”

According to an interview Libby gave to Laurie Peach in 1992, the couple scoured the the Hawaiian Islands from sea level to volcano top for [close to] two years, ” Charlie would collect the birds and I would stay in camp, dissecting them on the tailgate of our jeep and watching the kids while they played in the volcanic dust” (see Figure 5).

 

 

Figure 5. Libby works on a specimen in the background while Bruce and Barbara enjoyed playing in the Volcanic dust, circa 1946. Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

 

 

In a recent interview I conducted with Bruce, he fondly recalled “The whole family traveled around the islands, camping out and living out of the back of a jeep. Charles and Libby trapped birds and analyzed what they ate.”

The Schwartz’s were present on April 1, 1946, when an underground earthquake off the coast of Alaska created a powerful tsunami that made a direct hit on Hilo and killed 159 people – and swept away as many as 31 Nene (half of the population’s highest estimate). This event would presage a similar one in 1960 that we will come back to later in our story.

At the end of 1947, after completing their assignment, the Schwartz’s returned to Missouri. Prior to leaving they met with the Board of Agriculture and Forestry. According to Libby’s memoir, they agreed to produce two reports, a technical one for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and one for popular use. The latter, once again, would become an important part of out story.

 

Enter Sir Peter Scott

After they arrived back in Missouri, Charles was contacted by Sir Peter Scott, who had heard about the Schwartz’s recent work in Hawaii and and asked if they could arrange to have live Nene or eggs transported to England and his Refuge at Slimbridge. This would mark the beginning of a lifetime friendship (and mutual admiration) between two of the greatest wildlife artists and conservationists of the 20th century.

 

Peter Markham Scott was born on September 14, 1909, on Buckingham Palace Road to the famous explorer Robert Falcon Scott (discoverer of the South Polar or Antarctic Plateau) and the sculptor Kathleen Scott (three busts in London’s National Portrait Gallery).

Shortly before his tragic death on a subsequent voyage to the South Pole, Robert wrote to Kathleen and Urged Peter’s mother to “make the boy interested in natural history.” Due to his mother’s standing in British Society, young Peter was made a Life Fellow of the Zoological Society of London as a christening present and subsequently received private tutorials from renowned biologists. His father would be happy to know that, by the age of ten, Peter had committed his life to Natural History and Wildlife. Later in his life, in 1973, Scott would become the first person to be knighted for his services to conservation.

As it occurs to me that one could easily infer from the above paragraph that Sir Peter was an entitled snob, I would like to advise the opposite was true. According to a recent interview with Russell Fink, an acquaintance and guest of Sir Peter’s, “[He] was a regular, friendly guy who went out of his way to show me great hospitality – at the expense of nearly being late for Charles and Diana’s wedding.” Russ also told me that Scott asked him to “just call me Peter.”

Duncan Wilson, author of Making the Nene Matter: Valuing Life in Postwar Conservation, stated “Scotts Fascination with geese started when he attended boarding school in Cambridgeshire and began sketching grey geese found on local floodwaters. After arriving at Trinity College, Cambridge, to read natural sciences in 1927, Scott became a ‘fanatical waterfowler’, who divided his time between painting and shooting geese” (see Figure 6).

 

 

Figure 6. Sir Peter Scott painting his favorite subject. Charles called Scott “The greatest waterfowl artist in the world.” Photo courtesy Gundog Magazine.

 

 

In time Scott became more interested in studying birds (keeping them alive) rather than shooting them. He traveled across Europe and the U.S., developing a network of contacts among wildlife reserve personal and private collectors. He also trapping birds and brought them back to England, keeping them in enclosures on his property much as Charles Schwartz did in his youth. There he would detail their habits as he painted them.

In 1938, Scott found out that Herbert Shipman, a rancher, orchid grower and conservationist in Hilo, had a small flock of Nene, the only private one in the world (This corresponds with the year that Baldwin arrived on the Big Island and, therefore, I feel there may be a connection here that has so far eluded me). According to Wilson, “Shipman agreed to provide Scott with a breeding pair if he [came to Hawaii and] collected them personally.”

Shipman, one of the central characters in our story,  had originally obtained a pair from Mrs. Robert Hinds in 1914. At that time he estimated the number of Nene could have been as low as “a dozen in all of Hawaii.” She also gave a pair to Harry Patton (a cashier for the First National Bank of Hilo), which Shipmen subsequently obtained.

Shipman’s mother had brought wild fuchsia to the Big Island from California in 1909, and he soon discovered that Nene flourished on the flower’s nectar. With the help of this food source, Shipman was able to build his flock up to 40 birds by 1960 – before a second tidal wave hit Hilo on May 25 of that year and (in a tragic case of deja vu) swept half of them out to sea.

Wilson continued, “Before Scott could travel to Hawaii, however, Britain declared war on Germany, and he was called up to the Royal Navy.” It would be ten years before Scott resumed his interest in the Nene and, in the meantime, I infer Shipman had a change of heart about letting a pair of the rare birds leave the Islands. This would explain his reason for reaching out to Charles Schwartz.

By this time (1946) Scott had established the Severn Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, on the River Severn in Gloucester, as a wildlife sanctuary and scientific research center – dedicated to the conservation of waterfowl (see Figure 7). This would be the first of nine wetlands centers that is the UK’s equivalent to the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System.

 

 

Figure 7. Sir Peter Scott feeding waterfowl at Slimbridge, circa 1940s. Photo courtesy of BBC News.

 

 

Charles informed Scott that he and Libby had agreed to publish a book based on their research and findings in the Islands. Scott is reported to have been very enthusiastic and believed it would prove a game changer for the Nene – bringing attention to their situation to the world’s general population (many of whom were conservation minded by this point in time) as opposed to the relatively limited number of government officials, biologists and ornithologists who had access to Baldwin’s paper in The Condor or the Schwartz’s report to the USFWS – and, in the process, creating support for Scott’s plans to breed (in England) and restock the Nene.

 

The Game Birds of Hawaii

As Charles had resumed working for the Conservation Commission, it was primarily Libby who finished the manuscript and then had it delivered to the Board of Agriculture and Forestry in Hawaii. It was published, in 1949, as A Reconnaissance Of The Game Birds in Hawaii. 

Their research indicated sufficient food was available for the Nene, however, adequate cover in breeding areas was lacking. Their explanation for decreased numbers basically corroborated Baldwin’s findings; overharvesting, a heavy toll from introduced predators (the Schwartz’s would team with Baldwin to publish a paper zeroing in on the mongoose in 1952), and a changing vegetative pattern due to a change in land-use practices.

In their closing recommendations the Schwartz’s acknowledged the Nene’s situation was so dire, it would require a combination of old and new game management techniques to afford the species any chance to avoid extinction – including securing breeding stock from captive birds, propagation and, ultimately, restocking, “To permit this tragedy to occur without exerting more effort than has done would be unpardonable [my emphasis] (see Figures 8 – 10).

 

 

 

Figure 8. Title Page for The Game Birds in Hawaii by Charles and Libby Schwartz.

 

 

Figure 9. First page of the section on the Nene, including artwork by Charles.

 

 

Figure 10. Enlargement of the Schwartz’s recommendations , including the “game changer.”

 

 

As Scott predicted, the Schwartz’s well-researched book garnered a great deal of attention and was named the “Most outstanding publication in Wildlife Ecology and Management during 1949-50” by the North American Wildlife Society. It created broad support for saving the Nene goose and their closing statement was a call to action that simply could not be ignored.

 

Breeding Programs Established at Pohakuloa and Slimbridge

At this point (August, 1949) the Hawaii Board of Commissioners allocated funds to establish a Nene breeding program at a Forestry, Fish & Game Camp located within the Pohakuloa (military) Training Area on the Big Island. This appeared to be appropriate habitat, situated on a high plateau between Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Hualalai volcanic mountains and, at the direction of the Schwartz’s, improvements were made to ensure adequate food, cover and water (see Figure 11).

 

 

Figure 11. Newspaper article stating the breeding program was starting at Pohakuloa. Note the Nene photo is credited to Charles  Schwartz.

 

 

Shipman either gave or loaned (accounts differ) two pairs of breeding Nene to the program run by ornithologist J. Donald Smith. According to Wilson, these were supplemented in early 1950 by another pair from the Honolulu Zoo. Unfortunately, the local breeding program got off to a rocky start.

Wilson stated “One of Shipman’s females died before nesting, and his other pair produced only two goslings from four eggs. The third pair produced no fertile eggs, and the male, which turned out to be sterile, was returned to the zoo.” To make matters more pressing, the wild population was continuing to vanish at an alarming rate (see Figure 12).

 

 

 

Figure 12. The first page of a report on the Nene Restoration Program, written for The Journal of Wildlife Management by J. Donald Smith, January, 1952.

 

 

Reaching out for help, Smith sought an advisor from Slimbridge, and Sir Peter Scott sent his curator, John Yealland, to the Big Island in 1950. Yealland made several constructive suggestions and, in a spirit of cooperation and gratitude, Shipman and Smith decided to send back with him the breeding pair that Scott has so long desired.

Alas, breeding at Slimbridge also hit a snag when both birds laid infertile eggs. According to a biographical article which appeared in the November 9, 1974 Honolulu Advertiser, Shipman stated: “But the next fall, when the laying season arrived, I got a wire from Scott asking if I could send him a gander. It seems that both birds in the pair were laying.”

Shipman then sent Scott and Slimbridge one of the two males he had provided to Pohakalua – which seems like a big risk at what must have been a critical time in the history of the Nene. Fortunately, in February of 1952, the male mated with both females. The staff removed the fertile eggs and placed them under surrogates (bantam hens) and the Nene hens laid again. All told, Slimbridge was successful in producing nine goslings (see Figure 13). Scott subsequently stated the twelve Nene “probably represented about twenty percent of the world’s population.”

 

 

Figure 13. One of the nine goslings hatched at Slimbridge in 1952, drawing by Sir Peter Scott.

 

 

Becoming Hawaii’s State Bird

Starting in 1947, Scott had begun hosting natural history programs for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). According to Wilson, “From the early 1950s Scott used his position… to endorse the conservation of endangered species… A regular theme on the show was that wild animals enrich peoples lives, and he consistently maintained that we of this generation have a responsibility to hand them on to the next.” Thus, Scott echoed the words of his American counterpart, Aldo Leopold.

Wilson maintains that, back in Hawaii, (white) people who promoted the Nene restoration project took a different slant; perhaps overly interested in the Nene’s more tangible socioeconomic and political possibilities. He quotes Donald Smith, for example, as saying the efforts to save the Nene were a “worthy cause because they allowed for the preservation of something of old Hawaii for the education of tourists and residents alike.”

Wilson is implying that, on some level, the Nene was commodified – in much the same way as the romanticized Hula girl (see Remembering Harry Foglieta – Part Two). From here, our story takes an interesting turn, as Wilson points out conservationists “sought to raise its profile further by proposing that it be made the official bird of the islands.” They believed the Nene’s increased status would make it easier to raise badly needed funds for the breeding program at Pohakalua.

At this point, as is so often the case, conservation became a marriage between what I shall call the noble and the practical. In 1957, when Paul Breese, the first Director of the Honolulu Zoo and Director of Hawaii’s Board of Public Parks and Recreation fashioned a resolution to make the Nene the official bird of the Islands – it came at a time when (primarily) white Hawaiian business leaders were trying to achieve statehood (see Figure 14).

 

 

Figure 14. Paul Breese (right), who came up with the idea to have the Nene be named Hawaii’s state bird, accepts an award for being one of the state’s “Living Treasures.”

 

 

It did not escape their attention that every other state and the Territory of Alaska (which was also vying for statehood), had a state bird. Therefore, they threw their full support behind the resolution and the Territorial Senate quickly adopted the Nene as “the bird emblematic of the Territory.”

Wilson states: “The following year, Hawaii’s delegate to the United States Congress, John. A Burns, seized on the nene’s new status and introduced a bill seeking federal funds for work at Pohakuloa… Burns told Congress that additional funding was necessary to save this species and restore its habitat.”

Newspapers around the country aligned debates about funding for the Nene with debates about statehood. According to Wilson, “The Washington Post, for instance, warned that the nene were doomed to oblivion unless Uncle Sam does something about it… Hawaiians hope to still have some around if and when the territory becomes a state.”

On October, 13, 1958, the Washington Evening Star announced: “Uncle Sam is about to join in the effort to keep Hawaii’s Nene (pronounced Nay Nay) from being a gone goose.” Just ten months later (on August 21, 1959), Hawaii was granted statehood and the Nene became their official state bird (see Figures 15 and 16).

 

 

Figure 15. The article which appeared in the October 13, 1958 Washington Evening Star.

 

 

Figure 16. Hawaiian souvenir postcard, circa 1960s.

 

 

As more funding was made available to the breeding programs at Pohakuloa and Slimbridge, great strides were made. By the end of 1959, the Nene flock at Pohakuloa numbered 48, Shipman had increased the size of his private flock to 40 and the total Nene population, including those at Slimbridge, topped 200.

As early as mid 1958, Scott desired to begin sending Nene from England back to Hawaii. This was always his intent. Scott believed, like his friend Sir Julian Huxley (the first Directer of UNESCO), that “captive breeding should function only as a means of propagating animals that would be eventually used to reinforce wild populations.”

However, after discussing the idea with key personnel at Pohakuloa, Breese was forced to reject it out of fear that the “alien” Nene might introduce disease to the “native” Nene, a risk they were not willing to take at the time. Eventually, a compromise was reached wherein Scott and the Slimbridge population would be used to repopulate Nene on Maui and the Pohakalua birds would be released on the Big Island.

 

Our Final Protagonist – Stanley Stearns

The next chapter in our story concerns the involvement of our final protagonist, Stanley Stearns, the winner of three federal duck stamp contests; in 1954, 1963 and 1965. It was in 1963 that Stearns submitted his winning entry featuring a pair of Nene geese (see Figure 17).

 

 

Figure 17. 1964-65 federal (RW31) original entry and contest winner. Courtesy of Richard Prager.

 

 

When discussing this blog series with Russell Fink, I asked him if he knew why Stearns picked the Nene. He told me that Stearns was always looking for “something different” to paint and that he was “a champion of endangered species.”

With this in mind, and knowing that Stearns lived in Maryland when the article shown in Figure 15 was published, it was tempting to jump to the conclusion that he had read the article and it provided his inspiration. While the article may have somehow factored into his decision, it turns out that Stearns had a much deeper (and cooler) connection to the Nene.

 

Stanley Stearns was born on January 15, 1926 in Washington, D.C., to Harold T. Stearns and Norah (Dowell) Stearns. His father was a geologist and volcanologist for the U.S. Geological Survey and his mother was a geographer.

His parent’s work caused the family to move around a great deal when he was young – until 1930, when the family moved to Hawaii, where they would live for over 15 years (1930 – 1946). An article which appeared in the Honolulu Star Bulletin listed them as arriving in Honolulu (aboard the Manoa) on July 19, 1930 and Harold’s last assignment in the islands was as geologist in charge of Hawaiian ground water investigations from 1943 – 1946).

Upon their arrival in 1930, Harold started the systematic geological mapping of all the Hawaiian islands (including Ni’ihau). During this time he “Ascended every major valley; traversed every trail on foot, muleback, or by car; and scaled the summit of every mountain range in Hawaii.” He wrote over 150 scientific papers and several books based on his work (see Figure 18).

 

 

Figure 18. Geology Of The State Of Hawaii by Harold T, Stearns, published in 1966.

 

 

With the expectations of finding something interesting, I asked my son Eric, to read through 443 pages of Department of Interior monthly reports for Hawaii (Volcanoes) National Park, the area where Paul Baldwin worked during much of his time spent in the Islands.

Eric came up with this nugget; on December 6th, 1941 (the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor):

 

 

According to the Stanley Stearn’s biography (on page 50) in Duck Stamp Prints by Stearns and Fink, “As a boy he had many interests, wildlife being one of them, and he took every opportunity to go on geological field trips with his father.” When I reminded Russ of this – and the fact that Stanley spent his childhood in Hawaii (ages 4 – 14) and the fact that Paul Baldwin was working in the same vicinity for at least two of those years – the lightbulbs flashed in both of our heads at the same time!

“Well, there you go” Russ said, “There is your inspiration.” Not only would Stanley have encountered Nene in the wild on many occasions while walking the countryside with his father, he almost certainly came into contact with Paul Baldwin and learned about the plight of the Nene straight from the horse’s (Baldwin’s) mouth. Stanley may have also met Shipman while accompanying his father and, perhaps, spent time with the Nene on Shipman’s ranch (the “Big” Island was actually a small world in those days).

A December 10, 1963 USFWS press release announced Stearns’ win. It also pointed out that the birds were seriously threatened with extinction and that “though it will appear on the duck stamp, it may nowhere be hunted” (see Figure 19).

 

 

Figure 19. the USFWS press release announcing Stearns’ artwork, featuring a pair of Nene geese, was selected to appear on the federal duck stamp in 1963.

 

 

Stearns selected the printing firm of George C. Miller & Son, in New York City, to engrave a litho stone reproducing his winning artwork and then “pull” two limited edition (665 in the 1st edition; 100 in the 2nd edition) “duck stamp prints” for sale to collectors, wildlife art lovers, conservationists and (in this case) Hawaiian citizens to proudly display in their homes and offices (see Figures 20 – 22). For more information about stone lithography, see My Favorite Federal Duck Stamp – Part Four.

 

 

Figure 20. George C. Miller & Sons “O.K. Proof.” This was the first print that Stearns okayed (bottom left corner) and served as the control sample when pulling both editions (click to enlarge).

 

 

Figure 21. Advertisement by the Honolulu Book Shop, offering the Nene print for sale.

 

 

Figure 22. Advertisement by Sears (Honolulu)  – “THERE AREN’T MANY LEFT!”

 

 

A total of 1,573,155 stamps were sold (at $3.00 each), raising nearly five million dollars for the federal duck stamp program – some of which went back to fund the breeding program at Pohakalua. Both the stamp and the print have proved very popular over time and have brought a great deal of attention to the effort to save the Nene. This has resulted in increased funding not just for the federal duck stamp program – but (indirectly) for the breeding program at Slimbridge, as well.

 

Epilogue

While initial attempts at reintroducing Nene at Haleakala were hampered by the persistent presence of Mongooses, this was eventually controlled and the program started to produce impressive results. A fun fact about that first attempt in 1962: After the 35 birds were flown from England to Hawaii in the hold of an airplane, they were carried down into the crater – strapped to the backs of pack mules. Then a dozen boy scouts, each carrying a cardboard box containing one Nene goose, released them throughout the crater.

By the mid 1970s, Scott and the Severn Wildfowl Trust had sent over 200 Nene to Maui, enough to establish a stable flock on the island.  In part due to the positive publicity and funding it received from helping to save the Nene, the Trust grew tremendously and now welcomes over a million visitors a year to nine wetland centers in the UK. At many of these centers you can see Nene geese, a lasting tribute to Sir Peter Scott’s role in our story (see Figures 23 and 24).

 

 

Figure 23. A pair of Nene at Haleakala. Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines.

 

 

Figure 24. Nene hen and chick. Photo courtesy of Slimbridge Wetland Centre.

 

 

According to “Good for the Goose” an article written by Shannon Wianecki for Hana Hou! The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines in March of 2012, “After their successful reintroduction to Haleakala, nene were released elsewhere on Maui and [on] other islands. At last count there were 386 on Maui, 480 on Hawaii, 112 on Molokai, and 1,000 on Kauai – almost 2,000 birds total.”

Since then, the Hawaiian Nene population has steadily increased. According to an article which appeared in The Hawaii Tribune Herald on April 3, 2018, “Conservationists say a new proposal to reclassify the nene from endangered to threatened shows ‘great strides’ have been made in recovering the species, whose population dropped to 30 [birds] in 1960.’

“Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed reclassifying the nene, or Hawaiian goose, under the Endangered Species Act because it no longer is in danger of going extinct in the foreseeable future… Today there are more than 2,800 statewide, including 1,095 on Hawaii Island.”

On December 19, 2019, this became a reality (see Figure 25).

 

 

Figure 25. Journal entry from The Federal Register. Courtesy of the National Archives.

 

 

I hope you have enjoyed reading Saving the Nene as much as I have writing it. Like many of my favorites, it tells of a true “team effort” by Paul Baldwin, Charles and Libby Schwartz, Sir Peter Scott, Herbert Shipman, Donald Smith, Paul Breese and Stanley Stearns.

If, in fact, Smith, Breese and a number of unnamed Hawaiian businessmen romanticized the Nene as part of Old Hawaii (without much native Hawaiian input) in order to facilitate statehood, I, for one, have come to peace with it.

As I have grown older and, perhaps, more philosophical, it seems to me that for many things in life (like marriage, politics and, yes, conservation), to have the best possible chance to succeed – that everyone involved should be able to get something of what they need or otherwise want.

In this story there were many, many winners – chief among them the Nene, who survived. Others include our hobby, for it is hard to imagine what it would be like without Stanley Stearns’ 1964-65 stamp – a consensus top-five favorite, and (acutely important here in 2020) our quality of life.

Aldo Leopold and Sir Peter Scott spent the better part of their lives educating us in the ways that nature and wildlife have the ability to be therapeutic and heeling. I hope I never lose the ability to remember my encounters with the Nene when I was younger (perhaps similar to those experienced by a young Stanley Stearns?); my heart started to pound and I then experienced a feeling that can best be described as euphoria. I truly believe (like Leopold and Scott) that in life, especially today, these kinds of encounters are invaluable for our well being and, whenever possible, we should attempt to preserve such possibilities for the benefit of our children and future generations.

For Charles and Libby Schwartz, their role in saving the Nene was yet another salient milestone (from reading Libby’s memoir I infer they did not realize it at the time – they were simply doing work they believed in and spending precious time with their family) in what would become a long and far-reaching career.

 

To return to Missouri’s Audubon – Part Two, click here.

1 Comment

  1. Toni on December 29, 2020 at 10:37 am

    Thank you for writing this! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I play the spelling bee word find game in The NY Times, and after reviewing yesterday’s puzzle solution I saw that “nene” was one of the words I had missed. I didn’t know what that was. I googled it, and came across your story, and loved reading it. Your message in the end about there having to be something for everyone in all good partnerships and also preserving those wonderful things in nature that take our breath away, are great food for thought. Thank you!

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