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Utility airs plan to protect birds

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The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative’s plan to reduce the number of seabird injuries and deaths is available for public review.

The habitat conservation plan draft and environmental assessment are part of the utility’s requirement for its "incidental take" permit application submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for seabirds protected under the Endangered Species Act.

According to federal officials, the term "take" means "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct."

Federal officials will evaluate the application and public comments to determine whether the application meets the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Most of the utility’s electrical transmission and distribution system consists of overhead wires and poles that pose a threat to the nocturnal seabirds.

In the draft, the utility cooperatives proposes the following measures to minimize harm to seabirds:

» Fund implementation of the Save Our Shearwaters Program.

» Fund seabird colony management and predator control in Limahuli Valley, Hono o na Pali Natural Area Reserve and Wainiha Valley.

» Update population estimates at sea for the Hawaiian petrel, Newell’s shearwater and the band-rumped storm-petrel.

The utility has already taken steps to minimize harm to birds, such as shielding street lights "to eliminate upward-projecting light that could disorient birds," according to the conservation plan. It also plans to place power lines underground in Wailua and reconfigure lines at and near Kealia Beach.

David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice, said the utility’s proposal to protect some of colonies and control predation shows a commitment to increase the seabird population and reduce injuries and deaths.

Kauai is the core of the Newell’s shearwater species, which is endemic to Hawaii, said Henkin. From 1993 to 2008 the Newell’s shearwater population on Kauai dropped 75 percent to 16,000 birds from an estimated 65,000. "We need to protect the existing colonies, or we’re going to lose these birds forever," he added.

The draft and environmental assessment are available at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website at Copies and additional information may be obtained from Bill Standley of the wildlife service at 792-9400.

Public comments must be received on or before Nov. 29. Send written comments to Loyal Mehrhoff, Field Supervisor, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, 300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 3-122, Honolulu, HI 96850. Comments may be also be faxed to 792-9580.

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