Forest and Wildlife to restore Mana Plain wetlands for endangered birds

LIHU‘E — The Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife is planning to restore 105 acres of wetlands on Mana Plain Forest Reserve.

The goal of the Wetland Restoration Plan and environmental assessment is to identify sustainable management tools to restore Mana wetlands, historically the largest wetland area in the state, the department’s non-game biologist, Jason Vercelli, said Tuesday. 

Plan objectives include restoring and maintaining native wetland habitat for four species of endangered Hawaiian water birds and other native wetland-associated animals and plants, removing invasive vegetation and non-native vertebrates, and developing environmental education and community outreach opportunities, a department announcement released Tuesday states. 

“The main part of this project is to get more habitat for the birds,” Vercelli said.

The Wetland Restoration Plan area is on DLNR land facing toward the mountain near the Pacific Missile Range Facility’s runway, toward the ocean side of the GMO agricultural production fields, north of the main entry gate into the missile range facility’s base housing and extending toward Polihale.

Although the wetland restoration area runs alongside fields where GMO companies use broadly sprayed chemicals in the production of seed crops, Vercelli said he does not anticipate any adverse impacts on the wetland habitat. 

“Wetlands have a tendency to clean bad stuff out of water,” he said. “Plants remove suspended stuff in water. Groundwater is cleaner than runoff. I’m not (concerned), no, because of the cleansing ability of the wetland.”

There is no evidence of potential problems, he added.

“We’ve never had any problem in regard to the quality of the water …  and the birds we are targeting have no reason to go into ag land,” he said.

Other wetlands the department is currently restoring on Kaua‘i, such as Kawaiele, are fed by ground water, he said.

“We will be able to manage (Mana Plains Restoration) more, manage it more like a natural wetland, because we will be able to manage the water. There’s some existing wells on the ag land (taken out of ag production), so we will be able to manipulate the water level.”

The project is funded by two federal grants: a North American Wetland Conservation Act grant and a National Coastal Wetlands Conservation grant.

“If the (environmental assessment) goes through, we hope to start grubbing in the fall,” Vercelli said. Once the invasive species are removed and the land cleared, native plant species will be introduced for the endangered water bird habitat. 

“Kaua‘i has the largest population of endangered water birds in the state because of the absence of the mongoose,” he said, “so we’re like the gem of the islands. The mongoose has really taken a toll on the other islands.”

The DLNR is seeking public comment on the project’s draft environmental assessment. The public comment and scoping period runs from Jan. 3 to Feb. 3. 

Vercelli said the draft environmental assessment will be made available at public outreach meetings to be held in Kekaha and Lihu‘e later this spring. Notices of the public meetings will be advertised in local newspapers, at Division of Fish and Wildlife  offices and on the division’s website at http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/dofaw.

DLNR said interested parties are encouraged to submit comments about the project during the scoping period to ensure consideration of all possible alternatives for the restoration of “this important natural, cultural and historic resource.” 

Comments may be submitted to the Division of Fish and Wildlife Kaua‘i Branch: DLNR-DOFAW, 3060 ‘Eiwa St., Room 306, Lihu‘e, HI 96766, or via e-mail to jason.a.vercelli@hawaii.gov.

Correspondence should indicate “Attention of DEA – Mana Plain Forest Reserve Wetland Restoration Project.” Comments must be received by, time-stamped by or postmarked by 4 p.m. on Feb. 3.

Scoping comments, including personal identifying information, might be published as part of the environmental assessment report. Correspondence can include a request to withhold identifying information, but the agency does not guarantee it will be able to fulfill such requests. All information included in submissions from organizations or businesses will be made available for public inspection. 

For more information, contact Jason Vercelli or Thomas Kai‘akapu at 274-3433. 

• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 251, or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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