Shearwater plan hits snag

LIHUE — Hawaii Department of Transportation has taken an unexplained step back from developing a Kauai County Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan, and the gears of the entire process have slowed.

That’s because the county, Princeville Resort and HIDOT, who partnered to create the plan, have to be moving forward together to keep the HCP on schedule.

Tim Sakahara, spokesman for HIDOT, said staff members have been “advised not to comment on the matter due to pending litigation.”

According to the county attorney’s office, it’s unknown whether HIDOT will reconsider its decision and get back on board with the HCP creation, but the county is still pursuing the plan.

“The Kauai Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan is still moving forward,” said Mary Daubert, county spokeswoman. “The county continues to work with federal and state agencies on a habitat conservation plan as it relates to endangered and threatened seabirds.”

The need for a countywide habitat conservation plan sprang from the efforts of Hui Hoomalu I Ka Aina, a group of traditional practitioners who organized in the mid-1980s to protect cultural and natural resources.

The group noticed declining population numbers of two kinds of seabirds on Kauai, Newell’s shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels. After several years of research and conversations, it was discovered the birds were crashing down to land.

“So we made efforts for nearly 12 years to inform all these people and the utilities and the hotels that the shearwaters were crashing,” said Maka’ala Ka’aumoana, vice president of Hui Hoomalu I Ka Aina. “At that point, there wasn’t a lot of science. We just knew there were fewer birds.”

Then the Newell’s shearwaters and the Hawaiian petrels were put on the endangered species list and it became apparent there were three things taking out the birds: light distraction, power lines and predators.

“Eventually we filed suit in federal court under the Endangered Species Act, represented by Earthjustice, to force the County of Kauai, Kauai Island Utility Coop and the Princeville Resort to stop doing the things they were doing and mitigate the loss,” Ka’aumoana said.

Hui Hoomalu I Ka Aina singled out the Princeville Resort because at that time, their data showed 25 percent of the fallout on the North Shore was happening at that site.

In March 2011, KIUC, Princeville Resort and Kauai County were mandated to create and carry out actions described in a habitat conservation plan.

KIUC broke apart from that group and began creation of its own habitat conservation plan for the shearwaters. The other two entities united to form an islandwide plan and included HIDOT in the partnership, as lights within the HIDOT purview affect the birds on the island as well.

For KIUC, its power lines are the biggest threat to mitigate for the endangered seabirds, which can run into them mid-flight to the ocean and become grounded.

The biggest threat for the County of Kauai to mitigate is Vidinha Stadium with its lights that can distract the birds, who use the light of the moon as a guide to the ocean.

HIDOT is in charge of the harbor and the airport, both of which have lights that could cause a bird to fall to the ground.

“If they (HIDOT) wanted to go off on their own that would be fine, and if the county wanted to go off on their own, that would be fine, but right now they’re all partners,” Ka’aumoana said. “The Kauai islandwide HCP can’t proceed without them.”

Without a comprehensive HCP for the shearwaters, the entities involved face increased fines and much less robust monitoring programs and rescue operations for finding downed shearwaters.

Meanwhile, both bird species are important, both to the cultural history and the present, for people on Kauai.

“You can tell where the fish are by where the birds are and you can tell what kind of fish are there by what kinds of birds are out there,” Ka’aumoana said. “These birds and their connection to us are our traditions and they are vital to our lives today.”

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