LIHUE — Stadium lights could once again come to life for a few night football games on Kauai this season, if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signs off.
Monday, Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. signed a memorandum of understanding between the County of Kauai and USFWS regarding the reinstatement of night football games.
However, no USFWS names have landed on the dotted lines.
“The service continues to work with the county to develop a MOU that meets the conservation needs of seabirds while recognizing the importance of football to local communities,” said Holly Richards, USFWS spokeswoman.
Due process is the reason for USFWS’ lack of signatures, Richards said. She didn’t give a timeline for when the MOU would be signed.
“We are in the process of conducting the analysis needed to evaluate the actions proposed by the county to ensure that any football games are, in the words of Mayor Carvalho, ‘safe, responsible and follow our legal obligations,’” she said.
Nighttime football games ended on Kauai between mid-September and the end of the season in 2009 when the County of Kauai pleaded guilty to violations that resulted in the deaths of more than 18 migratory ‘a’o birds, or Newell’s shearwaters.
Monday, Carvalho announced that he had signed the MOU, which would allow the county to use stadium lights during one Friday night game and three Saturday night games this season.
Friday’s Waimea homecoming game is set to be a night game, if the MOU is signed. The other three night games are scheduled on Saturdays, Sept. 30, Oct. 7 and Nov. 4.
Neither USFWS nor County of Kauai provided a copy of the MOU to The Garden Island newspaper upon request, nor did they supply all of the details of the MOU.
However, reinstatement hinges on involvement in the islandwide Kauai Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan, being developed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, according to Carvalho’s office.
Representatives from DLNR declined to comment on the habitat conservation plan’s status.
“It’s our understanding the MOU has not been signed and as such, none of our people have seen it,” said Dan Dennison, spokesman for DLNR. “They’d prefer to review it before providing further comment.”
Volunteers trained to handle seabird fallout are another important part of the MOU, according to Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, who traveled with Carvalho and Senate President Ron Kouchi in June to meet with USFWS on the subject.
“The mayor laid out his case about how we were going to train volunteers to deal with the fallout — landings of the birds,” Tokioka said.
He continued: “The mayor has already put that in place, training people to understand what happens when the birds land into the field and how to get them into their natural habitat as safely as possible.”
Kouchi said the potential agreement would be a benefit to the community.
“The playing of these night games jump-starts the previous long-standing tradition of Friday night football games on Kauai that allow families and the community to come together to support their respective participants, classmates, and alma maters,” Kouchi said.
The $1.5 million project to upgrade stadium lighting is also a springboard for the MOU, Tokioka said, because it was the lights that attracted and grounded the injured or dead birds.
“It’s not that we don’t care about the birds,” Tokioka said. “It’s been hotter now on Kauai, and the safety of our student athletes is important as well.”
State Rep. Dee Morikawa said she’s thankful the process has started toward reinstatement of night games as well.
“I was seriously thinking about a covered stadium for Kauai,” she said, “since our lifestyle changes for preservation of those endangered birds.”
The creation of an MOU takes commitment and hard work, according to state Rep. Nadine Nakamura, and she said she’s thankful for the state and federal leaders who have put in their time.
“I commend the mayor and county for keeping this issue at the forefront and finding a win-win situation for our youth, spectators, schools and vulnerable endangered bird population,” Nakamura said.
The potential schedule of night games works well with the cycles of the moon, upon which the seabirds depend heavily, according to Earthjustice Attorney David Henkin, who has been instrumental in filing Kauai seabird lawsuits.
“It appears they are trying to avoid having any use of the stadium lights on the new moon that falls on October 19,” Henkin said. “On the full moon on Oct. 7, the level of birds coming down is lower because the artificial light competes with the natural light.”
The federal Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act both prohibit the unauthorized death or injury of endangered or threatened species and migratory birds, known technically as a “take” or “taking.”
An incidental take permit is required for any authorized death or injury of Newell’s shearwaters.
And that’s where the Kauai Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan comes into play. Princeville Resort, County of Kauai, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative and state Department of Transportation were originally at the table for the plan’s creation with USFWS and DLNR.
KIUC stepped away and created their own habitat conservation plan for shearwaters. In October 2016, HDOT slowed the islandwide conservation plan’s progress when the entity stepped out of the conversation.
“We’re happy DOT is back at the table,” Henkin said. “Right now we’re in a situation where the islandwide plan hasn’t been completed so no one has an incidental take permit.”
The habitat conservation plan should be complete by spring of 2018, according to Carvalho’s office.
“The Endangered Species Act does allow activities like Friday night football to harm endangered species, but it has to be permitted and done with measures to reduce harm during those activities,” Henkin said.
He continued: “There will be harm to birds if we keep the stadium lights on during the fledgling seasons. The goal is to have the football games and healthy populations of seabirds.”
While the county and partners work through the creation of the habitat conservation plan, the hope is an MOU will allow wiggle room for the county and relief for those on the field and in the stands on typical Saturday afternoons.
“We look forward to the Waimea homecoming game this Friday night, September 22, at the Hanapepe Stadium,” Carvalho said.