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Kauai County still noncompliant with federal deal to protect birds

By Rosemarie Bernardo

LAST UPDATED: 4:15 a.m. HST, Oct 28, 2012

Two years after admitting to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act by killing Newell's shearwaters through its lighting policies at county facilities, Kauai County is still working to meet requirements of a plea agreement with the Justice Department.

The retrofitting of light fixtures at Kauai County's park facilities and buildings is ongoing, county officials said.

Young Newell's shearwaters follow the lights from the moon and stars while they fly out to sea during the fledgling season from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15. Bright lights from stadiums and other facilities were disorienting the birds and causing them to circle around artificial lights, said Scott Fretz, former state wildlife program manager who currently serves as wildlife and forestry district manager of the Maui/Molokai Branch.

The shearwaters would fly around until they were exhausted and fell to the ground, where they were preyed upon by cats and dogs or struck by vehicles.

In 1975, Newell's shearwaters were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. About 90 percent of the seabirds breed on Kauai.

In the mid-1990s, the population was estimated at 80,000. But in recent years, the number of shearwaters has plummeted by 75 percent.

Kauai County paid a $15,000 fine and agreed to a series of corrective measures that were to be taken during a 30-month probation period after the agreement with the Justice Department. An audit of all county facilities was to be conducted along with creating plans to minimize harm to seabirds during the fledgling season.

The county is required to maintain a record of dead, injured or sick birds.

No downed birds have been reported at county facilities since the start of the probation period, according to county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka.

Officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not be reached for comment concerning county compliance under the terms of the plea agreement.

The lighting at football stadiums for Friday night football prompted a move to Saturday afternoon football instead.

Diane Nitta, executive secretary of the Kauai Interscholastic Federation, said while the community misses the nostalgia of Friday night football, residents have since accepted the need to change the football game schedule.

"I think the community understands," Nitta said. "The community is well aware of the situation."

The change, however, has reduced attendance.

"The fans are just too miserable in the heat so they stay home," said Kelii Morgado, head football coach of Kapaa High School. Misting systems are placed on the sidelines to keep players cool and football players are constantly reminded to hydrate.

Morgado said a lot of players experienced cramping and dehydration during the first season when games switched to Saturday afternoons.

"The players have taken our advice more seriously now," he said.

Morgado's wife, Heather, who regularly attends the games, said the stands in the past at Vidinha Stadium were about 70 percent full at the start of a game.

"Now, at the start of the game, the stands are 30 to 40 percent full," she said.

Morgado said she has noticed people arriving after halftime when the sun starts to descend and the weather is cooler.

"For the most part, people have accepted that this is just how it's going to be, but they miss the Friday night lights," she said.

In an email, Tokioka said wall sconce lights have been shielded at county facilities. New equipment to shield lights at various parks and police and fire departments is expected to arrive within the next two months.

The retrofitting of lights at the Vidinha Stadium parking lot is in progress and officials are also looking for replacement light fixtures for Kauai War Memorial Conventional Hall's parking lot and walkway.

Lights at other county facilities that could not be shielded are turned off during the fledgling season.

County officials have received complaints by some people who have not been able to play at night at various facilities, including softball fields, tennis courts and basketball courts.

"These types of complaints have become fairly commonplace during fledgling season," Tokioka said.

Sometime during the late-night hours of Oct. 4, an individual or individuals broke the lock and chain on an electrical box at Kalawai Park Softball Field in Kalaheo to turn on unshielded lights. Crew members have since secured the electrical box with a new lock.

There have been no reports of any similar incidents at other county park facilities.

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