NEW & NOTEWORTHY: Irradiator Loan Guarantee; Shearwater Surges; and Rare Plant Patrols

posted in: January 2012 | 0

Irradiator Loan Guarantee: The irradiation facility once proposed for land near the Honolulu airport, and now proposed to be built in central O`ahu, has moved forward to the point where it is working out details of financing. Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Cooperative Service published a notice announcing it was considering Pa`ina Hawai`i’s application for a loan guarantee to build the “agricultural products processing facility” at Kunia Village, site of the former Del Monte Plantation.

The loan is to be provided by the Pacific Rim Bank to Pa`ina Hawai`i, LLC (which holds the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s permit) and to Pacific Agriculture Research Company, LLC. The latter business was formed in March 2011 by Michael Kohn, principal of Pa`ina Hawai`i. Filings with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs state that its purpose is “irradiation research.”

The value of the loan is $2.5 million, according to Shirley Heatherly, a business program specialist with the USDA in Honolulu. The amount that would be guaranteed by the USDA is $2 million, or 80 percent of the face value of the loan.

Shearwater Nesting Surges: At windswept Mo`omomi, The Nature Conservancy of Hawai`i has boosted the wedge-tailed shearwater population by clearing dense stands of kiawe that have invaded large portions of the sand dunes.

A gated access and roadside railing prevent vehicles from damaging the dunes in which the birds burrow, and since 1999, the conservancy has overseen the removal of nine acres of kiawe. It has also trapped more than 1,000 cats and mongoose, as well as a few dozen rats.

As a result, shearwater nesting has skyrocketed, going from two active nests in 1999 to a record high of 546 last year.

“It’s an indicator we’re doing something right,” preserve manager Ed Misaki told the Natural Area Reserves System Commission in November. “The birds first invaded the really good area and are now moving into the area where we removed kiawe.”

The conservancy’s 921-acre Mo`omomi Preserve in northeast Moloka`i was once home to 30 bird species, about one third of which are now extinct, according to the conservancy’s website. Wedge-tailed shearwaters are one of the few species that remain.

Rare Plant Patrol: After more than a decade as state botanist, Vickie Caraway is leaving the Department of Land and Natural Resources to join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

And at what would be her last Natural Area Reserves System Commission meeting last November, Caraway, who created the DLNR’s lauded Plant Extinction Prevention Program, urged conservation agencies to put more effort into monitoring and managing rare plant populations.

PEPP’s staff have been hailed as heroes in the news media, but the program is a “victim of its own success,” Caraway said.

“[Conservation] partners say, ‘If it’s an endangered species, PEPP will take care of it,’” she said.

The problem is, the PEPP focuses only on sustaining the 200 or so native species that have 50 or fewer individuals left in the wild. Currently, some 600 plant species are listed as threatened or endangered.

With organizations such as The Nature Conservancy of Hawai`i relying heavily on the PEPP to monitor rare plant populations, Caraway said, “There’s a lot of species that are going to be falling through the cracks if you just rely on PEPP.”

Of Hawai`i’s 1,300 native plants, about half could be listed as endangered and probably will be the way the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is going now, she said, adding that she would like to keep more species from moving onto the PEPP list.

Volume 22, Number 7 — January 2012

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