Conservation groups that have worked for years to pressure the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) to comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) dismissed their federal lawsuit today. The move came after the groups secured vital, on-the-ground measures to reduce the number of imperiled seabirds the utility kills and injures each year.
“We went to court because KIUC refused to take responsibility for killing and injuring nearly 200 Newell’s Shearwaters each year, threatening this native seabird with extinction,” said Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana of Hui Ho‘omalu I Ka ‘Āina. “Now that the utility is finally taking necessary steps to help the birds, we’ve accomplished what we set out to do.”
Nearly all of the world’s Newell’s Shearwaters (also known by the Hawaiian name ‘a‘o) nest on Kaua‘i. From 1993 to 2008, the Kaua‘i population of Newell’s Shearwaters declined by 75 percent, in large part due to birds striking power lines and becoming disoriented from the utility’s streetlights while flying at night.
In March 2010, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of Hui Ho‘omalu I Ka ‘Āina, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, the Center for Biological Diversity and American Bird Conservancy to compel KIUC to comply with the ESA by lowering power lines in major flyways that are responsible for the bulk of shearwater deaths and by protecting nesting colonies from predators to offset unavoidable harm. Under pressure from the litigation, the utility finally secured an ESA incidental take permit in May 2011 and is now implementing critical measures to protect these imperiled seabirds.
“For almost a decade, we urged KIUC to lower its power lines, but the utility refused, even though it admitted the lines are a major cause of shearwater deaths,” said Marjorie Ziegler of Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. “Now the worst offenders will be coming down, giving hope that shearwaters will be around for future generations to enjoy.”
“To withstand the annual toll taken by KIUC’s operations, the Newell’s Shearwater population on Kaua‘i needs safe places to raise healthy chicks,” explained George Wallace of American Bird Conservancy. “That’s why we fought so hard to make sure KIUC contributes its fair share to protect nesting colonies from non-native predators such as rats, cats and owls.”
KIUC’s ESA permit requires it to contribute nearly $400,000 per year to protect shearwater colonies on Kaua‘i’s north shore.
“Getting KIUC to commit to taking vital steps to protect Newell’s Shearwaters is a significant step in the right direction, but actions speak louder than words,” said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re going to keep close tabs on KIUC to make sure it lives up to its promises.”
“The federal permit KIUC got in May is only a stopgap measure, lasting at most a few years,” explained Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. “We remain actively involved in the permitting process to ensure that Kaua‘i’s imperiled seabirds get the long-term protection they need to recover from decades of reckless behavior by the utility.”