Poison drop scheduled

WAIMEA — Another meeting has been set to bring the public up to speed on the Lehua Island rat eradication project, which is set to begin in August, pending permit approval.

On Tuesday, July 25, representatives from the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources will brief the public at the Waimea Neighborhood Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Island Conservation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Tropical Botanical Garden will join state officials at the meeting.

The ultimate goal is to get rats off the island so that native birds can safely produce so we can see a large return in Hawaii’s native bird population, said Josh Atwood, DLNR invasive species coordinator at a March Waimea meeting.

And officials plan to drop between eight and ten tons of the rodenticide Diphacinone from helicopters onto Lehua Island to do it.

It’s the second time officials have tried to wipe out the rats on Lehua Island — the first failed attempt was in 2009.

“What likely resulted several years ago was that there was a lot of plant growth on the island so the rats had plenty of choices of what to eat, and they wouldn’t chose to eat the rodenticide,” Atwood said. “The proposed project, this time around, is to drop it when there is low plant growth during the summer and while there are fewer seabirds on the island to minimize impact to them as well.”

Draft Environmental Assessments (EA) and final EAs have been completed to meet both state and federal requirements and entities are expecting a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) ruling sometime this month.

Two public meetings have been held on the subject on Kauai, one in March in Waimea and one in Kekaha in April.

The July 25 meeting’s purpose is to summarize the responses to comments received on the draft Environmental Assessments, according to a news release from DLNR.

The project is estimated to cost about $1 million, and the goal is to eliminate all of the rats on the 284-acre island, located 17 miles west of Kauai and three-quarters of a mile from the island of Niihau.

Rat eradication using Diphacinone will require three applications, 5-10 days apart. Representatives from DLNR said the first application will happen in August, pending permit approval, in a Wednesday news release.

Originally, the timeframe was July through September, which is the “best biological window which includes considerations of weather, sea conditions, rat population biology, and non-target species,” according to Patrick Chee, from DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Community concerns abounded at a Waimea public meeting regarding the project in March, and local fishermen questioned the effects rat poison will have on fish.

The Kekaha Hawaiian Homestead Association issued a public statement in opposition of the plan June 27, because of the potential effects on Niihau and the surrounding waters.

“The narrow channel between Niihau and Lehua, and the waters off west Kauai, are irreplaceable resources for subsistence fishing, life and livelihood for our people,” the statement says.

But state officials say dropping the poison is a needed investment toward biodiversity and conservation on the island.

“Left unchecked, invasive rat populations can explode. Every rat must be removed, otherwise one rat and its progeny could colonize and infest a small island, like Lehua, in a matter of months,” the release said.

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