LIHU‘E — Artificial lights often disorient adult and fledging petrel and shearwater, causing the birds to fall out of the sky and drop to the ground, often becoming prey.
In May 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized the Kaua‘i Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan.
As a participant, the county must be permitted, and a line item for that paperwork appears on its budget at $425,000 this year. That’s the same as what is proposed in the administration’s fiscal-year 2022 budget, which spans July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2020.
The county’s Department of Parks and Recreation takes the lead on these services because the department manages many of the facilities that host triggering lights, William Trugillo, the chief of planning and development for the department, said Thursday in a departmental budget meeting before the County Council.
Trugillo said the department has identified about 60 county-owned properties that have lighting that requires predator control.
“There is no way that the county will be able to afford to manage that control for all 60 properties,” Trugillo said, so the county has worked with state and other agencies to locate priority areas.
“It’s not the ideal that the agencies would want,” Trugillo said. “They would want monitoring and control at all properties all the time but, financially and manpower-wise, I don’t think there’s an agency on Kaua‘i that would be able to do it year-round. We’re doing what we can with what we have.”
The county self-monitors by searching and reporting downed seabirds at facilities, according to a May KSHCP Participant Inclusion Plan prepared by the county.
“Over the past decade, stray light has been minimized to the maximum extent practicable by either replacing or modifying the fixtures or by instituting operational procedures and controls that prevent or minimize their use during periods when they are likely to disorient protected seabirds,” the plan reads.
The Kaua‘i Humane Society stopped accepting feral cats for euthanasia in 2020. Without a predator-control entity, the county had to seek another option, leading to a contract with Hallux Ecosystem Restoration, LLC, in December, to provide predator-management in county facilities. In fiscal-year 2021, the county allocated $50,000 to feral-cat control. This upcoming fiscal year, the budget proposes $120,000.
Over the last few months, KHS has reached the status of a no-kill shelter.
“Having people bring cats in for euthanasia doesn’t solve the cat problem,” KHS Executive Director Nicole Schafer Crane said.
Schafer Crane explained that cat populations typically occur where there are food sources, human attention or a habitable environment.
“If you pull cats out of there, it makes space for more cats,” Schafer Crane said. However, if trap, neuter and release (TNR) methods are used, population growth can be slowed.
In March, the National Animal Care and Control Association, an authority and guidance for humane officers, recently took a stance promoting TNR, leaving cats where they are found and creating protection programs.
Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro said that if the county doesn’t participate in the HCP, even-higher federal fines would eventually trickle down to taxpayers.
“A lot of focus is on cats versus birds, but the reality is it’s to protect residents,” Kaneshiro said. “This allows us to have lights at convention hall at night, lights for tennis courts and lights for football games and lights around the county.”
Kaneshiro said it’s a give and take.
“The fallout is that we have to do this HCP plan and pay a lot of money for and do the cat contract,” Kaneshiro said.
Councilmember Felicia Cowden said feral-cat control is a widely-discussed issue in council testimony.
“We have gotten more letters of concern for the cats than (we have) ever gotten of concern for the people that are struggling in the parks,” Cowden said Thursday. “So, that certainly catches my attention.”
Schafer Crane said it’ll take the work of multiple organizations working together to come up with multi-faceted solutions, like TNR combined with transferring cats off the island, establishing a cat sanctuary and providing assistance to cat-colony caretakers.
“You don’t have to just be a cat lover. You don’t have to just be a bird lover,” Schafer Crane said.