For Immediate Release, May 16, 2011
||David Henkin, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436
Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana, Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Äina, (808) 346-5458
Marjorie Ziegler, Conservation Council for Hawaii, (808) 593-0255
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-2600
George Wallace, American Bird Conservancy, (540) 253-5780
Years of Advocacy to Protect Kaua'i's Imperiled Seabirds Pay Off
Feds Spell Out Actions Utility Must Take to Reduce Seabird Deaths, Injuries
KAUA’I, Hawaii— Conservation groups that have worked for years to pressure the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative to comply with the Endangered Species Act welcomed the news that, on Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit detailing the actions the utility must take to reduce the number of imperiled seabirds it kills and injures each year and to offset unavoidable harm.
The KIUC promised to seek the required permit when it acquired Kaua‘i’s utility in 2002, but for years it refused to implement the measures needed to prevent the deaths of two seabird species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act: the threatened Newell’s shearwater (also known by the Hawaiian name ‘ao) and the endangered Hawaiian petrel (or‘ua).
From 1993 to 2008, the population of Newell’s shearwaters on Kaua‘i declined by 75 percent, in large part due to birds striking power lines and becoming disoriented by the utility’s streetlights.
The KIUC’s delays prompted Earthjustice to file a federal lawsuit in March 2010 on behalf of Hui Ho‘omalu I Ka ‘Äina, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, Center for Biological Diversity and American Bird Conservancy.
“This is an important step in protecting the increasingly rare, native seabirds that nest on Kaua‘i,” said Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana of Hui Ho‘omalu I Ka ‘Äina. “We regret only that KIUC has taken so long to do something meaningful about the nearly 200 endangered and threatened seabirds its power lines and streetlights kill and injure each year.”
In May 2010, two months after the conservation groups went to court, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the KIUC for criminal violations of the Endangered Species Act for killing the protected seabirds without a permit. The utility entered into a plea agreement shortly before its trial was scheduled to begin in December 2010.
“It’s unfortunate that two lawsuits were needed to get KIUC to take responsibility for its actions,” said Marjorie Ziegler of Conservation Council for Hawaii. “Corporations operating in Hawaii should understand their kuleana (responsibility) to protect our precious natural heritage.”
The permit requires the KIUC to carry out actions described in a “habitat conservation plan.” These include a schedule for the KIUC to lower its power lines, obscure them with fast-growing trees, or attach them to bridges to minimize bird fatalities in key flyways — Keälia, Hanapëpë, and Kapa‘a.
“We’ve been asking KIUC to implement these common-sense protective measures for years, but the utility refused,” said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s gratifying to see they are finally being required under the habitat conservation plan.”
The habitat conservation plan further directs the KIUC to fund nesting-colony protection and restoration efforts at Limahuli and Hono o Nä Pali to help offset the bird deaths caused by its operations.
“Although the federal permit has been issued, it is not valid until the state also grants an incidental take license,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. “KIUC remains in violation of both federal and state endangered species laws and is not authorized to harm any protected species until it has both permits.”
The state permit is still pending. The Department of Land and Natural Resources has told the KIUC to conduct an environmental assessment as part of the process, but the utility has refused to comply.
“Unfortunately, KIUC is still dragging its feet at the state level,” said George Wallace of American Bird Conservancy. “It’s not over yet, but the issuance of a federal permit represents a hard-fought effort by the conservation community to hold KIUC accountable.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. For more information, visit www.biologicaldiversity.org
Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Mid-Pacific office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawai‘i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services. For more information, visit www.earthjustice.org
Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Äina is a "taro roots" community-based organization founded by cultural practitioners in 1983 to restore, protect and preserve Kaua'i’s natural and cultural resources.
Conservation Council for Hawai‘i is a Hawai‘i-based, non-profit environmental organization with over 5,500 members dedicated to protecting native Hawaiian species and ecosystems for future generations. CCH is 60 years old in 2010. For more information, visit www.conservehi.org
American Bird Conservancy conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, protecting and restoring habitats, and reducing threats while building capacity in the bird conservation movement. For more information, visit, www.abcbirds.org