BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – Rare, Black-Crowned Night Herons, estimated at about 400 individuals throughout the state, are about to become even more rare as an entire rookery is destroyed.  Also threatened are endangered Hawaiian hoary bats.

The cause of the problem?  Is it invasive feral cats?  Invasive rats?  Invasive mongoose?

No.  It’s an Invasive Species Committee.

A permit was recently issued to allow the eradication of mangrove trees and pickleweed on the North Kona coastline of Hawaii Island, near Honokohau Harbor, the last mangrove wetland ecosystem on the island.

Want to comment on this?  You can’t.  Your rights have been denied you.  This eradication has been exempted by the DLNR and County of Hawaii from requiring an environmental assessment, or EA.

An EA is required for all actions that involve state or county land or funds, is zoned conservation, is shoreline, or is archeologically significant.  All apply to the mangrove eradication that has been happening on Hawaii Island, but which has been denied public review and comment by EA exemptions.

This eradication, which is called “shoreline restoration” by those doing it, has already resulted in 35 acres of mangroves being poisoned with the powerful herbicide imazapyr and left to rot in place at Wai Opae Marine Life Conservation District, Paki Bay, Pohoiki (Isaac Hale Beach Park), and Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo.

The public now must see hundreds of thousands of dead trees blighting popular recreational areas and parks for the next 20-30 years, as the hardwood mangroves decay, break and enter the water, damaging coral and threatening human health and safety.

Lack of an EA for these earlier eradications was the cause of a lawsuit filed for violations of the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act, which gives the public the right to an EA and comment on projects that involve public lands and public money, and special environmental areas such as shoreline and conservation lands. The lawsuit failed to stop the eradications at the above sites because it wasn’t filed within 120 days after the permits were issued, as required by law. Now, the last mangrove site on the Big Island, with endangered bats and a night heron rookery, has just been approved for destruction by the Hawaii County Planning Department with no EA or public comment.

Most shocking was the exemption letter from William Aila, Jr., Chairman of the BLNR and director of the DLNR.  He writes that mangroves are great everywhere else in the world, providing important and valuable environmental services, but are bad in Hawaii.  This is debatable, if a comment were allowed, which it isn’t.

He then makes the frightening illogical jump to write, “Given this, OCCL has concluded that the exemptions (from requiring an EA) for this and similar invasive species removal projects are warranted.”

In other words, because mangroves are considered bad, removing them and any other invasive species is good and has no potential negative impacts that should require careful environmental consideration or public comment.

Effectively, the DLNR plans to exempt invasive species removal projects from public review and comment, regardless of scope, method, species attacked, location, or collateral damage.

Of course, even if there is a problem with an invasive species, it doesn’t follow that all solutions are equally good.  Sometimes the solution can be worse than the problem.  It is also important to note that there is often controversy over which plants or animals should be labeled as “invasive”.

Environmental laws, such as the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act, encourage the public to participate in government decision-making through the environmental assessment process.  Exemptions to this process are allowed for only those classes of actions that are clearly insignificant.  The law also states that exemptions do not apply to actions in sensitive areas, such as coastal areas and shoreline.

Should this shoreline restoration project have been exempted?

According to the DLNR Office of Coastal and Conservation Lands and the County of Hawaii Planning Department, this shoreline restoration project is exempted under the class “Minor alterations in the conditions of land, water, or vegetation.”

It’s hard to imagine any of this shoreline restoration project is minor — hand removal of mangroves, pickleweed, and other unwanted species from sensitive coastal areas; replacement of removed trees with any one of numerous “native” species that may or may not grow well there; attempted mitigation of destruction of wildlife, such as the night herons, endangered bats, and aquatic life that use the mangrove habitat; and protection of archeologically significant sites.

Obviously, this is a touchy project, requiring great care.  That is why it also requires an EA.

The Hawaii government seems more than willing to sacrifice rare birds, endangered bats, and the public’s rights, and consider it all “minor”. They make the laws, but feel immune from having to obey them.

For more, contact sydsinger@gmail.com, or call 808-935-5563.

Comments

comments

6 COMMENTS

  1. Mangrove is said to be actually a much greater threat to the night heron that they are good rookery habitat (?) because they reduce shallows and mud flats where the heron needs to feed.

    Syd Singer said “…the last mangrove [infestation] on the island.”
    WAY TO GO BIISC!!!!!!!! Nice Job!

  2. Mr. Singer has been previously informed that dense tree stands, such as mangrove–or strawberry guava–do not support populations of endangered bats. Instead, the stands of trees stop the bats finding and catching their food–flying insects. Mangrove trees can be so dense that it is difficult to crawl in between the branches. Imagine trying to fly at high speeds in pursuit of a flying moth–blind and in the dark. Bats prefer long, open corridors, like natural streambeds, which allow them to fly freely, while staying close to the relatively open forest type provided by native trees.

    In the long run, removing the invasive plants will allow a healthy natural ecosystem function to return to the area.

    Neither the night heron nor the bat evolved with mangrove trees–they do not need them now.

  3. In the application for permit to remove the mangroves at Honokohau, it is fully acknowledged that both the native bats and indigenous night herons use this particular mangrove forest as a nesting site. Copies are available at the County Planning Department. This phenomenon was also observed at the Puna mangrove forests before they were destroyed. Night herons used the mangrove forest for nesting and foraging, the native Hawaiian stilts harvested crabs and small fish around the mangrove forest, and native puffer fish found refuge and nutrients around the roots.

    Mangroves are praised world wide, and their benefits are countless. In a world so desperately in need of carbon and pollution intercepting vegetation, mangroves take the prize. Toxins, excess nitrogen and phosphorus run offs are turned into life giving ecosystems. Mangroves have proven to support both non-native and native life. Mangroves are not of the low nitrogen ecosystems of ancient native species, but are well suited inhabitants for the modern environment in Hawaii. They are here to help us, in a world of tremendous change due to human impact. Natives are lovely, but may no longer survive as the fittest. Ecology evolves.

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