Lehua rat-eradication plan delayed

LIHUE — The project to eradicate the rats on Lehua Island won’t be starting on Tuesday, according to Scott Enright, director of the state’s Department of Agriculture.

That’s because he still hasn’t signed the HDOA aerial application permit required for the project.

“The paper is still sitting in the middle of my conference table,” Enright said. “I haven’t signed it yet. I have a meeting with all the guys involved on Monday morning. It won’t go on Tuesday.”

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife plans to eradicate invasive rats that have shredded the trees on Lehua Island by dropping about 10 tons of rodenticide onto the island from helicopters.

“The purpose of the project is to restore the Lehua Island ecosystem by creating a predator-free, fully-protected refuge for threatened and endangered Hawaiian species,” according to DNLR.

Invasive rats have far-reaching impacts on the island’s native birds, plants and natural systems, DLNR said. Chiefly, they eat native seabird eggs, chicks and adults. They also consume and destroy the island’s native plants and seeds.

“Left unchecked, invasive rat populations can explode,” a release said. “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 project is set to happen over three different days, and was tentatively set to begin Tuesday, with subsequent applications happening Aug. 18 and Aug. 29.

State Rep. Dee Morikawa is asking the state to delay the planned rat eradication project on Lehua Island until critical environmental questions can be answered.

Community members and conservationists are also asking the state to hold off on the plan until they have answers.

“Residents are very concerned about the process of dropping poison on Lehua Island to kill rats, especially as we enter hurricane season,” Morikawa said in a letter delivered to the state this week. “There are also questions about the possible effects of the poison on the coral reef, the endangered monk seal and green sea turtle and fish near the island.”

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