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Habitat survey planned for mitigation areas

State wildlife officials hope to begin their petrel count in Kahikinui by October before the birds fly away for the year. The project is funded by a $1.2 million federal-state grant.

The $900,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant, matched by about $300,000 in state money, will fund assessment of the habitat and a survey of the number of endangered petrel as well as endangered Hawaiian hoary bats in the area, proposed as off-site mitigation for wind power projects, according to Scott Fretz, state Department of Land and Natural Resources wildlife program manager.

Those projects are Kawailoa Wind Power on Oahu and Auwahi Wind Energy in Ulupalakua, according to a Fish and Wildlife Service news release about the grant.

The Maui site covers the upper slopes of Haleakala in a forest reserve on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands acreage and those managed by the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership of 11 private and public landowners and agencies, Fretz said.

“We know they (the bats and petrels) are both there,” Fretz said. “We don’t know how many.”

The count is important for the wind power developments that must offset the animal deaths from their projects. The developers are required to create a “net recovery benefit that offsets their take,” Fretz said.

The Kahikinui site is ideal for the mitigation of the projects’ impacts, Fretz said. The petrel and bat counts will establish a baseline, which the private companies then can use to develop their habitat conservation plans, he said.

Establishing the baseline is a public responsibility, said Fern Duvall, state Forestry and Wildlife Division wildlife biologist. With that baseline and other information obtained from the survey in hand, requirements may be placed on the private developers and their effects measured.

“It is an area that has not been reviewed much,” said Duvall, who will be instrumental in the implementation of the grant on Maui. “We need to know the starting point.”

Fretz concurred, saying that the survey will help identify the current situation so that a plan can be developed to increase the numbers of the petrels and bats.

The developers will “contribute millions” to the mitigation plan, Fretz added. “This is one part of the bigger picture.”

For hoary bats, the forest is prime habitat. They live on insects and roost there, Fretz said.

The petrels nest in rocky crevices from the 7,700- to 9,000-foot elevation, he said. With management of predators, the birds may move lower down the slope, Duvall added. He said bones of petrels have been found in lava tubes at elevations as low as 500 feet.

Duvall is attempting to gear up for the petrel count in October, because the fledglings will be leaving by November. The birds will return in April.

The birds mate and then nest with hatchlings in June and July, Fretz said. The fledglings fly off in October and November.