LIHUE — Fishermen and conservationists on Kauai are leading a rally against the proposed aerial drop of rodenticides on Lehua Island.
And they’re calling for more in-depth, face-to-face conversations between the state and the affected communities when it comes to resource management in Hawaii.
“From now on, we need the agencies to come here to west Kauai when they make the actual decisions that affect our land, water and lives,” said Harold Vidinha, a Kekaha resident. “We want to look them in the eye and have them hear from us from the heart.”
Though communication between the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources and Kauai residents on the Lehua Island Rat Eradication Project has been strained, the Department of Agriculture has taken steps to vet the project.
Scott Enright, head of Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture, is putting up a roadblock after receiving a letter from Rep. Dee Morikawa.
“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 the Aug 4 letter.
She continued: “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.”
Enright’s signature is the last thing holding back the project because he has to sign an aerial application permit before the DLNR-contracted company Island Conservation can cover the 284-acre island in poison to kill the invasive rats that feed on Lehua’s plants, eat native seabird eggs, chicks and adults, and keep birds from nesting.
“The aerial permit is sitting in the middle of my conference table and I haven’t signed it,” Enright told TGI on Friday. “It’ll (the unsigned permit) be there Monday.”
Enright said he met Monday on Oahu with stakeholders and government officials to discuss whether he should sign the aerial application permit for the drop of a total of about 10 tons of the rodenticide diphacinone.
The poison was tentatively scheduled to be distributed in three separate drops. The first was scheduled for today, with two following drops on Aug. 18 and Aug. 29.
He didn’t return calls Monday to TGI to confirm whether he signed the permit.
While HDOA makes the decision to either grant or deny the aerial application permit, Kauai residents launched an online document archive that holds official documents related to the project.
The document archive can be found at www.Lehua-Island-Hawaii-Conservation.org and is meant to be a resource for policy-makers, residents and concerned citizens, according to a news release about the archive.
“Allowing quick access to source documents for community members and decision makers, this is new tool assists them in focusing their questions, substantiating their concerns, and proposing alternatives,” the release said.
And while the community organizes information, some say they’re encouraged by the steps taken by Morikawa and HDOA.
“The Department of Ag (is showing) that it is trying to make the right decisions,” said Phoebe Eng, from Waimea. “Both are showing us that this is not a ‘done deal’ and they are listening with accountability to local Westside constituents.”
Meanwhile, Hanalei scientist Terry Lilley has offered to research rat activity patterns and food chains that could be contaminated by the planned poison drop.
He suggests putting radio transmitters on rats to track movements, and offered the use of a 40-foot research ship as a floating lab, with a high-speed zodiac for a dive boat.
“By doing a full ‘MRI’ of Lehua Rock, we can create a major study that will help everyone better understand how to deal with rats worldwide, on all island ecosystems,” Lilley said.
ReefGuardians Hawaii, an environmental and educational organization, could put together the study, he suggested, and could bring in partners with government agencies, nonprofits, fishermen, local community members, divers and independent scientists.
“What a gift we have been given here,” Lilley said. “Let’s take advantage of it.”
That chance for collaboration is important to the community, Eng said, because it can provide for better solutions to the rat problem.
“Maybe (it) allows for the possibility for the Westside community — fishers, Niihauans, residents and local environmentalists — to work more closely with the agencies on better solutions,” she said.
Eng continued: “It might help in finding less potentially harmful, less toxic alternatives — especially where endangered species and complicated food web issues are involved.”