Hawaii nature reserve predators targeted
|Photo gallery: Kaena Point, Oahu's last wild place|
|Video: Kaena Point fence proposed to protect birds|
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By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser North Shore Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
State and federal wildlife officials want to erect a predator-proof fence through one of the most unspoiled spots on O'ahu to create a haven for endangered and protected seabirds and plants.
Ka'ena Point Natural Area Reserve has seen dramatic recovery since becoming a protected area 24 years ago, and today the remote area is home to one of the largest seabird colonies in the Hawaiian Islands.
Among the 13 species of seabirds commonly seen there are the wedge-tailed shearwater and Laysan albatross, both of which are under protected status.
But as much as 15 percent of the shearwater chick population was killed in 2006 by dogs, cats or mongooses because the seabirds nest on the ground, making them easy prey. Last year 13 percent of the albatross chicks were destroyed, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
To help protect the birds, the Wildlife Society Hawai'i Chapter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the DLNR propose to build a 500-yard predator-proof fence that would stretch across the peninsula along the base of the Wai'anae Range to the high-tide line at either end.
In all, some 59 acres would be protected.
The fence would have several entry points and would not impede hikers, bicyclists or fishermen, officials said. A double-door system would allow them to pass through while making sure predators don't get in.
The protected status of the area has allowed the bird population to grow, but further measures are needed to ensure the birds' survival well into the future, said Lindsay Young, project coordinator.
In as little as an afternoon, "it would take (just) one dog ... to eliminate them," Young said. "That's part of the reason we hope the fence will be approved because it provides that insurance policy to protect that colony of birds."
The DLNR's Division of Forestry and Wildlife has prepared a draft environmental assessment for the estimated $200,000 project, which is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Wildlife Society.
The assessment was submitted to the Office of Environmental Control and released to the public in its Dec. 23 bulletin. People will have until Jan. 22 to comment. The assessment is also posted on the DLNR Web page www.dofaw.net.
As part of the assessment process, personnel have been presenting the project to community groups on the North Shore and in Wai'anae to obtain feedback. And residents are encouraged to contact the state for information and to voice concerns.
DLNR officials said the response has been generally positive, with concerns raised regarding the fence style, access to the area and impact on cultural sites.
Cynthia Rezentes, vice chairwoman of the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board, deplored the idea of placing a fence in the area and blamed irresponsible people for taking dogs there and dumping cats.
But she said it is a worthwhile proposal, especially at this time of year when the wildlife gathered there is like no other place on O'ahu.
"This is a little bit of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for people who will never get there," Rezentes said. "This time of the year, you can see all the ground-nesting birds, maybe whales, dolphins, monk seals and turtles all at once."
A SPECIAL PLACE
Young, who has studied the area for five years and is a doctoral student at the University of Hawai'i, said Ka'ena was chosen because of the bird population, the site's isolation and the native plants found there.
"We got the plants, the animals, and the ecosystem is protected," she said. "We got the best of both worlds."
Young said although the project seems costly, it will save money in the long run because the predator protection program now operating will be reduced.
The system now includes trapping cats and mongooses, and setting bait stations for rats, all of which are of limited effectiveness, said Christen Mitchell, a planner with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife. When dogs are reported, a person is sent to try to resolve the problem.
Gege Kawelo, president of the Wai'anae Hawaiian Civic Club, said she was briefed on the fence project and her sense was the state was looking for people to help monitor the area after the fence is installed.
"We're for preserving these indigenous birds, and that's a good thing. However, the monitoring and the clubs helping ... we need more information," she said.
Mitchell said she doesn't know of any group that has "adopted" the area, but it would be helpful in protecting it.
"The hope is to cultivate more volunteers and to have something organized, because it is unique," Mitchell said.
FENCE PROVED EFFECTIVE
The predator-proof fence has been widely used in New Zealand and tested on a small project on the Big Island with great success, she said.
Its use at Ka'ena Point would be the first such permanent project of this scale in Hawai'i.
The fine mesh will stop something as small as a 2-day-old mouse from entering along with cats, dogs and mongooses, Mitchell said. A roof over the top of the 6 1/2-foot-tall fence will prevent animals from climbing it.
The fence will also protect 'ohai, an endangered plant that lives only at Ka'ena and whose seeds are eaten by mice and rats, she said. Other native plants including 'akoko, naio, 'ilima and naupaka also are expected to thrive behind the fence.
An added benefit is also expected for the monk seal, Mitchell said.
"Many of the diseases they are susceptible to are carried by the predators this fence will exclude," she said.
A concern of some residents is the "soul's leap" or leina a ka 'uhane, a cultural site where, according to Hawaiian culture, departing souls pass into the spirit realm, Mitchell said.
Some residents believed that the original alignment of the fence would block access to that site, so a second alignment has been proposed, she said.
Now that the draft environmental assessment has been completed, project organizers must apply for several permits, including a special management area permit that is subject to City Council approval. If all goes smoothly, the project would begin construction when the birds are not nesting, in either July/August or October/November.
The earliest it could be completed is October 2008, Mitchell said.
Jeff Alameida, who grew up in Mokule'ia and is a member of the North Shore Neighborhood Board, said placing the fence at Ka'ena would benefit the entire island.
"It's a gorgeous part of the island," Alameida said. "It can serve as an opportunity to find ways to reduce predators on the island or around the state."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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