‘Lower-risk’ — game on

LIHUE — Kauai’s three-month-long seabird fledgling season officially kicked off Monday. Yet, the lights of Vidinha Stadium will be aglow Saturday, when Kapaa and Waimea high schools square off in one final night football matchup.

“No moon conditions are expected that night, and a (Department of Land and Natural Resources) biologist found that the fledglings on Kauai are very young yet and not ready to fly so the risk of a take to the fledglings is minimal,” County of Kauai Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo said.

Each year, from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15, endangered Newell’s shearwater and threatened Hawaiian petrels fledge from their mountain nests, often flying several miles to reach the ocean. Unfortunately, however, the seabirds have a well-known — and sometimes fatal — attraction to artificial lights.

Like moths, the young birds circle the light source until they become exhausted or strike an object. Once on the ground, they become targets for predators.

The issue ultimately brought an unpopular end to night football games on the Garden Isle during fledgling season.

Last week, Rapozo and County Attorney Al Castillo met with officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DLNR and the Kauai Interscholastic Federation to discuss rescheduling Saturday’s game from afternoon to evening. In light of the favorable conditions, they were given the go-ahead.

Brian Landry, a USFWS special agent, said a permit allowing for the incidental take of endangered species in this circumstance is not available to the county or the Department of Education.

“In light of this and with keen awareness of the significance of Friday night football games to the residents of Kauai, all stakeholders have engaged in a coordinated effort to accommodate this schedule change,” he said. “Based on the best available science, (Division of Forestry and Wildlife), the (Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project) and the FWS have determined a ‘lower-risk’ evening and have offered recommendations to minimize or negate any potential impacts on endangered species during this night game.”

The organizations have offered assistance to the county and DOE during the game in monitoring for downed birds and providing immediate care should an incident occur.

In the unlikely event that a bird is traumatized, plenty of people will be standing by.

“Seven federal and state wildlife biologists will be present to monitor the Sept. 20 night football game,” said Thomas J. Ka’iakapu, the Kauai wildlife manager for DOFAW. “Save Our Shearwaters staff will also be on site to provide assistance.”

Rapozo said the county appreciates the efforts of USFWS and DLNR to allow for the additional night competition.

“It’s a tradition that we’re trying to preserve as best we can for the players, families and football fans on Kauai,” he said.

In 2010, the county and the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative were prosecuted by the Department of Justice for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in connection with the deaths of Newell’s shearwater, resulting in plea agreements and both defendants being placed under federal probation.

The county’s agreement with DOJ included a $15,000 fine, a $30,000 donation to the Kauai Humane Society’s Save Our Shearwater program, and $180,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to benefit the Newell’s shearwater. The terms and conditions of the county’s probation ended in March 2013, with no additional fines.

Saturday’s junior varsity game begins at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity around 7:30 p.m. No other night games are planned this season on Kauai.

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