Castle & Cooke wants to begin tests for a wind farm on Lanai and study how to prevent any resulting loss of endangered native bird species.
The two-year test project calls for the installation and operation of six weather towers strung with wires to keep them upright – lines posing a risk to flying birds.
Castle & Cooke official Timothy Hill said the towers, about 50 meters in height and 8 inches in diameter, will be painted white and have curlicue-shaped objects on the wires to divert birds from flying into them.
Hill said the firm is planning to spend $300,000 to monitor the impact of the towers and is paying the state $250,000 to help to develop a habitat conservation plan.
“It will be good to work with the agencies and to protect the resident birds of Lanai,” said Hill, executive vice president for Castle & Cooke Resorts LLC.
Hill said the monitoring will include radar studies about bird activity.
The state Office of Environmental Quality Control is scheduled to release the proposed habitat conservation plan by today and seek public comment.
State researchers said they know of three endangered bird species that have been seen on Lanai, including the Hawaiian coot, stilt and petrel as well as the hoary bat.
Hill said of the four endangered species, only the petrel has been found nesting on Lanai.
The Hawaiian petrel was found in large numbers in 2006 in a high-elevation area known as Lanai Hale.
Scott Fretz, the state wildlife program manager, said the habitat conservation plan will suggest how to improve the reproductive capacity of endangered species to offset potential deaths from wind farm activity.
Fretz said the towers are on the western side of Lanai and not within the known breeding area for birds.
Fretz said birds, including petrels, fly at night at a high rate of speed across Lanai.
Jay Penniman, Maui District endangered species research specialist, said the $250,000 will be used to remove predators such as cats and barn owls from the Lanai Hale area, where there are thousands of burrows of nesting petrels.
Penniman said workers will install fencing and clear acres of strawberry guava bushes to allow the return of native plant species and improve the bird habitat.
The adult petrel, a pound in weight with a wingspan of 36 inches, generally leaves the nest in December and flies round trip between 4,700 to 5,500 miles to the North Pacific, according to researchers.
Penniman said the petrels fly close to the ocean and feed on small fish.
“They do not save the fish,” he said. “They produce oil that they save in their stomachs.”
Penniman said upon their return to the islands, the petrel catches some fish to bring back to the nest and also feeds the nutritious oil to the newborn.
Penniman said by clearing out the strawberry guava and predators such as mouflon sheep and feral deer from the Lanai Hale, the habitat conservation plan also helps improve the watershed.
“I think it should work out very well for Castle & Cooke and the petrels,” Penniman said.
By Gary T. Kubota
7 March 2008
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