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Kaua'i Seabirds Threatened by KIUC Powerlines & Structures

Case Overview

For decades, endangered Hawaiian Petrels and threatened Newell's Shearwaters have been killed and injured by flying into power lines and associated structures owned and operated by Kaua'i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC). KIUC's own estimate is that it currently kills nearly 200 listed seabirds per year, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The illegal operations of KIUC and its predecessor, Kaua'i Electric, have killed thousands of imperiled seabirds over the years and bear substantial responsibility for the crash in the Newell's Shearwater population on Kaua'i, where the bulk of the species is found and where bird numbers have declined by 75% in the past fifteen years.

The Newell's Shearwater population on Kaua'i, where the bulk of the species is found, declined by 75% from 1993 to 2008. (FWS)

On behalf of four cultural and conservation organizations (Hui Ho'omalu i Ka 'Aina, Conservation Council for Hawai'i, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the American Bird Conservancy), Earthjustice filed suit against KIUC in March 2010, seeking to compel the utility to put in place measures vital to reduce seabird death and injury due to KIUC's operations. These common-sense measures -- such as reducing the height of power lines so they are shielded by surrounding landscape features and vegetation -- were identified in a study Kaua'i Electric commissioned nearly fifteen years ago, yet, for years KIUC refused to implement the study's recommendations.

Under pressure from Earthjustice’s lawsuit, in August 2010, KIUC finally submitted an application for an incidental take permit that includes some first steps toward modifying its power lines. Earthjustice is participating actively in the permit process to ensure any permit that is issued requires adequate measures to protect imperiled seabirds. In the meantime, Earthjustice’s litigation is temporarily on hold pending a criminal trial against KIUC for its illegal harm to shearwaters and petrels, which is set for December 7, 2010.

Earthjustice, in representing the above-mentioned clients, has also reached an agreement with the St. Regis Princeville Resort to further reduce its lighting and fund programs to help restore populations of Hawaiian Petrels and Newell's Shearwaters, which are attracted to the resort’s lights and become confused by them, circling until they land on the ground from exhaustion or strike a building. Many experts believe Kaua‘i’s seabirds use the moon’s reflection on the water to help guide them to the ocean and are attracted to lights that create the same effect. Fledglings, which leave nests for their first flight to the sea from mid-September to mid-December, are particularly vulnerable. Once on land, these birds cannot take off again from a flat surface.

While the settlement requires the resort to reduce its lighting substantially, seabirds may still be attracted to those lights that remain. Accordingly, the settlement also requires the resort to make contributions to off-site projects aimed at protecting the seabirds until it secures an incidental take permit. This agreement resolves the conservation groups’ lawsuit against the resort, which was filed in May 2010.

Case Updates