New & Noteworthy

posted in: December 2006 | 0

Astroturf Campaigns: Grass-roots are oh so yesterday. Nowadays, it’s the appearance of being a grass-roots organization that alone seems to count.

And so, in the days running up to the November campaign in Hawai`i, voters of the state were informed that “The Committee for Essential City Services” opposed amending the Honolulu charter to give more funds to affordable housing and land conservation. The amendment (which passed) would increase taxes and cut into funds for firefighting and police protection, the group warned.

Meanwhile, “Hawai`i concerned fishermen and their ohana” took out large display ads in the front sections of Honolulu’s two daily papers the Sunday before the election. That group informed readers that the “current state administration” is opposed to fishing in Hawai`i and urged them to go the polls (and vote accordingly).

As it turns out, the Committee for Essential City Services is a front for the Land Use Research Foundation of Hawai`i, a group that represents the interests of big business and big landowners. Apparently, LURF feared that if voters knew that LURF was behind the ad, they would tend to discount the message. And so LURF ginned up a sham group, hoping no one would bother to investigate who was behind it.

The “concerned fishermen and their ohana” group is even more opaque. It did not register as a non-candidate committee, although state law would seem to require this. At the moment, the Hawai`i Campaign Spending Commission is reviewing a complaint (filed by the editor of Environment Hawai`i) over the fishermen’s ad; the commission alone has the legal authority to investigate what individual or group shelled out the bucks for the expensive ads.

Dolphin Disputes: The National Marine Fisheries Service has begun the process intended to lead eventually to rules that would set limits on swim-with-dolphin tours in Hawai`i. In October, NMFS announced it would be preparing an environmental impact statement to consider rule-making intended to protect Hawaiian spinner dolphins from human activity that could harm them. The rules would probably include time- and area-based closures for dolphin resting habitat.

The announcement set off a flurry of activity among the dolphins’ self-described “podners,” a community that includes individuals who channel the thoughts of cetaceans, tour operators with a commercial stake in the matter, and even “Jeff Dahmer” (signature number 3047 on a web-based petition to “Save the Spinner Dolphins of Hawai`i”).

Captain Douglas “Dolphinus” Webster, who runs commercial swim-with-dolphin tours, sent out emails urging recipients to send letters to NMFS objecting to their proposal that would “make it ILLEGAL for humans to be with free ocean swimming Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins.”

“You may also suggest that complete EIS evidence that actually proves a rise in mortality rates should be done before any regulations can be made,” he wrote — in other words, he seems to be saying, NMFS should be required to show the dolphin interactions are fatal before regulating the activity.

NMFS already has information showing the activity may be harmful to resting spinner dolphins. In recent years, NMFS partnered with the state of Hawai`i and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to develop guidelines for those wanting to swim with dolphins. “However, despite the regulations, guidelines, and outreach efforts, extensive interactions with wild spinner dolphins continue to occur in Hawai`i,” NMFS noted in announcing the proposed rules.

The public comment scoping period for the EIS closed November 24.

Volume 17, Number 6 December 2006