To grow or not to grow – Public comment wanted on Kilauea refuge expansion

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will discuss various options for expanding the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge at a public meeting tomorrow night.

The open house — to be held in Kilauea Elementary School’s cafeteria, 2440 Kolo Road — will include a presentation on the subject as well as group and one-on-one question and answer sessions.

According to Mike Hawkes, manager of the Kaua‘i National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Kilauea Point, 70 to 100 people are expected for the meeting, the third on the subject.

The proposed expansion, in the works since 2005, seeks to double the current 203-acre refuge to protect and preserve native plants and animals.

At the meeting, Fish and Wildlife Service representatives will review the four options presented in the Land Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment.

The largest proposal is an addition of 202 acres — smaller than the maximum 234 acres approved by Congress — of coastal dune, sea bluffs, wetlands, grasslands and riparian woodlands. The assessment also includes options to expand by 179 or 55 acres, or take no action at all.

The service has identified the 202-acre expansion as its preferred option, according to the assessment.

Feedback from the public will be taken into consideration when deciding which alternative to pursue. In addition to the public forum, the service will accept written comments through June 15.

To date, feedback has run the gamut, with some opposition and some support, Hawkes said.

Linda Pasadava, president of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association, said there is “suspicion and trepidation on the community’s part” that the service will not protect the activities and accesses enjoyed on those open spaces for years.

Pasadava pointed to disputed access at Crater Hill, which was donated to the refuge in 1988.

“We were shut out in the name of preservation,” she said.

According to Pasadava, residents worry that they could be prevented from fishing and crabbing in Kilauea River or accessing Kahili Beach if the refuge acquires certain lands.

To address these concerns, the neighborhood association will meet tonight with Fish and Wildlife Service representatives so that the group may “ask tough questions.”

“The only way we could accept the expansion is with agreements in writing,” Pasadava said, noting that the neighborhood association has rejected past plans.

But Hawkes refuted claims that the refuge would reduce access to beaches.

“We couldn’t close it if we wanted to,” he said, as the Fish and Wildlife Service does not retain ownership of roads running through refuge territory.

He further argued that the lands in question — with the exception of two Kaua‘i Public Land Trust parcels totaling 8.25 acres — are private.

Residents who use the properties to access beaches, streams and other natural resources are, in effect, trespassing. And there is no guarantee that this will go unnoticed indefinitely.

“If it doesn’t become part of the refuge, it’ll get houses built on it and it will be lost forever,” Hawkes said.

Pasadava agreed that development is a threat to the area and said she hopes the service will work with the community.

Currently, all the land under consideration is undeveloped. But that could change by the time the refuge is able to begin making purchases.

Hawkes said the owner of the largest parcel has requested permits to build two houses and a barn on the 162-acre property, and has plans to put in 20 acres of hardwood forest.

All acquisitions require willing sellers, and the service pays fair market value.

In 2004, Congress passed the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge Expansion Act to protect and recover endangered Hawaiian birds as well as conserve and manage native coastal strand, riparian and aquatic biological diversity.

A decision on the alternatives should be made in July, Hawkes said.

A Comprehensive Conservation Plan will follow with a framework to direct future refuge management decisions. That, too, will be publicly vetted.

Refuge expansion options

Alternative A takes no action to expand the refuge.

Alternative B adds 55 acres of coastal habitat. These parcels are adjacent to the existing refuge and the ocean. They include seabird nesting areas and riparian habitat for endangered waterbirds.

Alternative C adds 179 acres of riverine lands. These coastal lowlands include wetlands, riparian, forest, grassland, marsh, stream, estuary and dune habitats. They are home to the federally endangered nene, Hawaiian duck, Hawaiian coot, Hawaiian moorhen and Hawaiian stilt.

Alternative D is a combination of Alternative C and most of Alternative B, encompassing coastal and riverine areas near the current refuge. This is the option preferred by the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect a “significant portion of the Kilauea River Valley,” according to the assessment.

For more information, download the full report from www.pacific.fws.gov/planning, or pick up a copy from the Kilauea Farmers Market, Princeville library or refuge headquarters at Kilauea Point.

Comments on the Land Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment must be submitted by June 15. They can be sent via e-mail to FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov, with “Kilauea Point Refuge” in the subject line. Or write to: Amy Wing, Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Planning and Visitor Services, 911 NE 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97232-4181.

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