Delay of rat poison plan would be best

Too many concerns have been raised, too many questions have been asked, too many doubts expressed, about the rat-eradication project on Lehua Island to hold the course. State Rep. Dee Morikawa is correct to ask that this project be delayed until critical environmental questions can be answered.

We, like Morikawa and others, are worried about the possible effects of the poison on the coral reef, the endangered monk seal and green sea turtle, and fish near the island. When you’re talking about dropping 10 tons of rodenticide from helicopters on an island in the Pacific Ocean, it certainly seems there is the possibility it could be a threat to marine life.

Some question why there is a fuss over a plan to kill rats on an island. But it’s better to question before rather than after.

A little background

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has said 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. Invasive rats on this small island 17 miles west of Kauai have far-reaching impacts on the island’s native birds, plants and natural systems.

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. Every rat must be removed.

The kind of bait being proposed, the temporary nature of its use and the time of year chosen to do this operation mitigate impacts on threatened and endangered species by avoiding times when they are known to actively use places like Lehua, officials have said.

Doubts remain

Morikawa, who represents the section of Kauai including Lehua, Niihau, Koloa and Waimea, has written to both Suzanne D. Case, chairperson of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, and Scott Enright, chairperson of the state Board of Agriculture, asking them to delay the project scheduled to drop diphacinone pellets set to begin Tuesday. Enright told TGI Friday he has not signed the permit for Tuesday’s drop and said it will not go on as scheduled.

Good.

We’re not saying this project hasn’t been well vetted. It has. Environmental assessments have been completed to meet both state and federal compliance requirements. The DLNR released its draft EA in March 2017, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the federal draft EA in May 2017. Both documents describe the scope of the project and alternatives considered. Public informational meetings were held on March 14 in Waimea and April 3 in Kekaha. The state and federal agencies have completed Final EAs and issued Findings of No Significant Impact.

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.

No one tried to sneak anything by anyone here. But, questions continue to come up and there isn’t a strong reason this project can’t be delayed to properly answer those questions. No need to appear to rush in to dump 10 tons of poison on an island to kill rats, especially considering when this was done before, 2009, it wasn’t long before marine life showed up dead. And the rats didn’t all die. It seems difficult to be 100 percent sure you’ve wiped out every rat, and DLNR has stated that is the goal.

Further, the state’s Department of Agriculture is investigating the poison planned for rat eradication on Lehua Island. The intent to “conduct an investigation of the restricted use pesticide DITRAC D-50 PELLETS” was announced in a July 31 confirmation letter to an anonymous person from John McHugh, administrator for the DOA plant industry division.

In addition, brodifacoum, which is planned to be used as the rodenticide, has not been licensed for use in Hawaii.

Morikawa argues that public hearings on the project were inadequate and ineffective and many residents left the meetings without having their questions addressed by state experts. Now, Morikawa and others are asking the state to explain what alternatives have been explored. It shouldn’t take long to explain those alternatives to Morikawa’s satisfaction.

“I am asking the state to delay the rat-eradication project until all concerns from the public have been addressed and an agreement is reached on how to best proceed,” she said.

This is not unreasonable.

While we support the proposal to restore Lehua Island by creating a predator-free, protected refuge for threatened and endangered Hawaiian species, a delay in the poison drop seems the best course of action.

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