Slow down and save a nene

Two words for drivers: Slow down.

Sure, everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere, whether it be a dentist appointment, a cup of coffee, catch a wave or get to work. It seems almost every driver out there is in a rush.

If you want to put that to the test, try going the speed limit or just a little over and see what happens. Within minutes, a vehicle will be tailgating you and passing when the chance arises. Most of us, because we never leave enough time to get where we’re going and manage our time poorly, are in a hurry once we get behind the wheel. Kauai is not the place for a leisurely drive to admire the scenery — unless you want to get yelled at.

So what’s the big deal, anyway? So what if you’re driving a bit too fast because you got stuck in the Kapaa or Lihue crawl?

Bad things can happen and are happening.

The nene population is paying a price for our mentality that we must always be in a rush and drive at least 10 mph over the speed limit everywhere we go like our time is more important than the lives of wildlife.

In case you didn’t read our front page story Tuesday, two of three baby nene photographed grazing in lush grass alongside the Hanalei River last month were killed last week by cars as they attempted to cross a highway. And the primary reason they were killed is that drivers were careless.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence. Sadly, it’s becoming common.

If you don’t believe us, believe Jean Olbert, a biologist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife who specializes in protection of nene on Kauai.

“Many of these deaths are preventable if drivers would simply heed warning signs, slow down, and exercise caution in areas where nene families commonly breed, nest, and raise their young.”

That’s worth repeating to make sure we get the point. These nene might still be alive but for drivers refusing to pay attention to warning signs, refusing to slow down, refusing to watch out for these endangered birds.

Yes, endangered. Nene are only found in Hawaii and are listed as endangered due to their low number, with an estimated 1,200 remaining on Kauai.

More than 50 birds have been killed in this manner in the past two years. On Kauai, the worst locations for nene deaths are around the Hanalei Bridge, on Kilauea Road near the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, and on the Westside of the island. Most birds are killed on roads in the early morning and evening hours.

The greatest number of road deaths occur between December and April during the peak breeding and molting season. During this time both adults and goslings can’t fly and especially vulnerable to passing cars and trucks. Nene like to forage for food along highway edges and ditches that are regularly mowed. Runoff from paved surfaces helps grow especially desirable grass in these areas.

Solutions are in the works.

DLNR is opening discussions with the Department of Transportation and Kauai County to explore reducing and/or changing roadside vegetation that isn’t as attractive to nene.

Nene crossing signs have recently been posted by the DOT along Kaumualii Highway in Kekaha and Kuhio Highway in Hanalei in regions where birds frequently cross roadways. DLNR/DOFAW is working with county and state transportation departments and federal partners to potentially add more signs in high-strike zones.

Hopefully, these moves will help.

But really, the best solution is the most simple one: Drivers need to slow down, pay attention and watch out for nene. Slowing down might cost you a few minutes, but it could save the lives of these treasured Hawaiian geese.

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