Land Board Approves Rule Changes Banning Feeding, Abandoning Animals
According to testimony from some of the women who manage feral cat colonies on O‘ahu, cat numbers can be dramatically reduced with proper care — not leaving food out, trapping, spaying and neutering them — but it just takes about 15 years or longer.
Lisa Thompson, who has been taking care of cat colonies for 25 years, told the Board of Land and Natural Resources on September 8 that she manages two colonies.
“Each was probably over 50 [cats]. Today, it’s nine and 12,” she said.
Over her objections, as well as those of several hundred others, the Land Board voted that day to approve amendments to the administrative rules for the DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) that prohibit the feeding and abandonment of feral or stray animals at the state’s small boat harbors.
“I believe these new rules will hinder the efforts of compassionate people to reduce the cat population,” Thompson told the board, adding, “I don’t only fix cats, I teach people how to trap. … I do this all without pay. A lot of the time, I cover the fee to fix the cat.”
Christin Matsushige, who with her husband has volunteered with the Hawai‘i Cat Foundation for 25 years, added that by adopting and implementing the rules, the department would be ignoring the “army of people willing to provide volunteer services.” Those people have kept tens of thousands of cats from the environment by simply trapping and neutering 5,000 feral cats, she argued.
Steph Kendrick of the Hawaiian Humane Society questioned the need for the rule changes, as well as any DOBOR effort to kill strays found at the harbors.
“In our conversations with DOBOR, they identified problems with cats at two harbors. Ke‘ehi and Hale‘iwa. Ke‘ehi was being managed until a new [harbor] administrator kicked them out. The numbers were declining,” she said, before asking, “Is the plan really to kill all animals? Free roaming cats, pets that get loose? … I don’t think that’s a job they [DOBOR staff] really want to embrace. Even if that is the plan, I tell you what … you can’t kill your way out of the problem.”
Countering the onslaught of opposing testimony, a few members of the public expressed their support for the rules, citing their concerns about the public health impacts of cat feces.
Bruce Anderson, head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources, also testified to the threat the cats posed to cetaceans and endangered Hawaiian monk seals. Anderson, whose doctoral degree is in infectious diseases, noted that cats are the only source of toxoplasmosis, a deadly disease caused by parasites in cat feces. Over the years, eight monk seals and two spinner dolphins have been known to have died from toxoplasmosis, he said, adding that those were “grossly underestimated numbers.”
“Why are we focused on the harbors? The [toxoplasma gondii] oocysts come from all over and survive in the ocean for months. If you think you can clean up an area by simply removing some feces … one feces has a million oocysts,” he continued.
Harbors are immediately adjacent to the water, and at Ke‘ehi lagoon, rain is washing feces into the ocean. There’s no buffer … and that’s just Ke‘ehi lagoon. … Every one of those harbors has hard surfaces where you’re going to be concerned about feces going into the harbor. You have an attractive area where people are feeding cats. If there’s one place you don’t want cats, it’s the harbors,” Anderson said.
Even though the rule allowing DOBOR to kill strays at the harbor was not up for discussion that day, the Land Board decided not to make any efforts to implement any culling until next January to allow time for those managing cat colonies to discuss with the division where and how to best remove them from harbors.
The DLNR had not responded by press time to questions about the progress of those discussions.
Rise in Wind Farm’s Bat Take
Spurs Environmental Review
On October 27, the Land Board approved a recommendation by the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife to require a Maui wind farm to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for a proposed amendment to its Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and Incidental Take License (ITL) to allow a 10-fold increase in the number of endangered Hawaiian hoary bats that can be killed by the facility. The board also delegated to its chair the authority to determine whether SEISs are required for other wind farms.
Auwahi Wind Energy’s 21-megawatt wind farm at Ulupalakua Ranch was originally authorized to take 19 adult and eight juvenile bats over 25 years under HCP and ITL, which were approved by the Land Board in January 2012. In April 2015, DOFAW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) agreed to allow Auwahi to “convert 8 juvenile bats to the equivalent of three adults, resulting in an adjusted approved take permit for 22 bats,” according to a DOFAW report to the Land Board. Even so, the FWS estimates there is an 80 percent chance that the bat take to date “does not exceed 45,” which suggests that more than 22 bats may already have been killed in the few years the farm has been operating.
To ensure the farm doesn’t exceed its permitted take of bats, Auwahi has sought a major amendment to its HCP and ITL. Although still in draft form, the amendment “is expected to request take of bats as high as 10-fold the number represented in the current ITL,” DOFAW’s report states.
DOFAW administrator Dave Smith told the Land Board that Auwahi’s proposed change in the scope of the wind farm’s environmental impacts require an SEIS.
“What we’re finding out now, some of the [wind] projects are taking significantly more bats [than anticipated],” he said. In addition to Auwahi’s proposal to increase allowable bat take, he said several more will be coming from other wind farms.
Given that, board member Chris Yuen asked Smith, “Do we know enough about bats to know how much it would affect the population to have a certain amount of bats killed by turbines?”
“No we don’t. … We don’t know if there’s way more bats than we ever thought or if we’re killing them all,” Smith replied. He added that his division doesn’t think the wind farms are driving the bats to extinction, at least not yet, given that bat takes have not started to decline.
Board member Keone Downing asked how high the take limit needs to be to keep Auwahi’s facility operating.
“How many is going to be enough? I call it ‘bats per kilowatt hour,’” he said.
Smith said the company is negotiating that level based on its current rate of take, adding that the state’s Endangered Species Recovery Committee will be discussing the best science available to help determine the best number.
“Isn’t that something they’ve done already?” Downing asked.
Smith said that new evidence has since come to light. Certain wind conditions and certain speeds may increase the likelihood of taking bats, he continued, adding, “We’re hoping to be able to target wind speeds and seasonality to decease bat take by 90 percent. We’re hoping to get to that point.”
Marilyn Teague of Sempra, Auwahi’s parent company, said that her company was prepared to immediately start writing the SEIS. — Teresa Dawson