BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Hawaii taxpayers and the local airline companies are funding the transport of 400 Nene geese from property surrounding the Lihue airport on Kauai to the islands of Maui and Hawaii.
But transporting the endangered species to a new habitat doesn’t come cheap: catching, transporting and quarantining the Nene for up to a year to help them adjust to their new habitat will cost $18,000 per goose.
State transportation spokesperson Dan Meisenzha say the protected state fowl, which was brought to the area many years ago by a former Kauai hotel owner with a resort near the airport, has a population that is growing by 20 percent a year.
During the 106,815 take offs and landings in the last year at Lihue airport, there have been just 41 so-called “airstrikes” where a bird or owl hit an airplane.
While no Nene geese have been involved in airstrikes, state wildlife and transportation officials say because the population is on the rise, the endangered birds could cause problems for airliners soon.
However, some Kauai residents are critical of the plan.
Bob Warren, who lives in Kilauea, said he loves the geese, but the cost to move them to another island is exorbitant. He has up to 60 geese living on his property. They follow his wife around the yard as she gardens and they enjoy looking at themselves in his pool.
Warren said that Dr. Mel Levine from Rougemont, North Carolina, was the man responsible for the survival of the Nene. His Sanctuary Farms raised the Nene in the 1970s and then repopulated Hawaii. The well known pediatrician and author took care of the birds for free. Sadly, he passed away this year, Warren said.
Warren also pointed out another potential flaw in the plan to move the birds: Nene geese are more protected on the islands of Kauai and Lanai because there are no mongooses on these islands to eat the eggs or attack the birds.
But the pricey bird relocation isn’t the only bird related expense that taxpayers are funding at local airports.
Taxpayers also spend nearly $407,937 a year at Lihue airport to staff 6 people to keep birds, dogs, cats and other wildlife away from the runway during take offs and landings.
Statewide, there are a total of 27 employees working at state controlled airports to keep birds off of runways. That is at a cost of $1.6 million per year.
Bird mitigation staff at other airports include:
- 6 people on the Honolulu International Airport at a cost of $381,249;
- 5 people at the Kawailoa airport at a cost of $83,399;
- 1 people at Dillingham air field at a cost of $78,769;
- 5 full time and one part time person at Kahului airport at a cost of $393,035;
- 1 person one day a week at Kapalua airport on Maui at a cost of $18,019;
- 1 person on Molokai at a cost of $86,366;
- 1 part time employee on Lanai at a cost of $43,510;
- 1 employee in Hilo at a cost of $91,264 per year.
- Personnel provided at Kohala as requested and in Kona twice a year for site visits.
Meisenzhal of the state Department of Transportation, said the these federal employees mainly protect the runways by firing off gunshots before planes land or take off to scare the birds away and look for nests to ensure birds are not living in the area. They can shoot to kill if necessary, he said.