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.
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