The mist was thick, so thick that it felt as if we were drifting among the clouds, when Koko and I walked out into the cold blackness of pre-dawn. It was caused, no doubt, by the brief rain that fell midway through the night in big, heavy drops, like small pebbles on the skylight, and then departed to leave the sky chock full of stars and all the mountain tops clear.
By the time we returned, the mist had greatly retreated, drifted far away from the road, tucked itself into the valleys, swirled itself around cinder cones, pooled into distant ghostly ponds. Yet it was still visible, even palpable, to those who cared enough to stop for a moment to see and feel.
That shifting scene serves as an apt metaphor for what’s happening today with so much of Hawaii’s native flora and fauna, as well as its indigenous culture. Reading some of the comments that are still being left on the Pondering the Path post, and then an article in The Garden Island about the dramatic decline of the endemic Newell’s shearwaters, really drove it home in an ugly way.
The Newell’s population has dropped from 80,000 in the mid-1990s to less than 20,000 today, and is continuing to decline at a rate of 60 percent every decade. Our lights and utility wires are the primary cause. These birds nest nowhere in the world but Hawaii, so when they’re gone from here, they’re gone forever. Yet KIUC still wants a permit to kill 125 each year and injure another 55.
It’s been working on the permit for the past eight years, and during that time has implemented a few token mitigation measures. Meanwhile, the birds continue to crash, literally and figuratively, but nothing of any significance is done because it’s just too expensive or bothersome or beyond the minimum legal requirements.
“We’re doing what we’re obligated to do,” [KIUC President and CEO Randy] Hee said Friday.
I imagine that when it comes to the pesky problem of imperiled native birds, Hee feels much the same way The Garden Island’s editorial writer did when he penned an opinion piece about the Path entitled “Time to move on:
We have spent far too much time and effort on this project already and there are miles still to do. Concerns for this phase have been raised and heard. Now is the time for decisive action.
What that really means, whether we’re talking about environmental issues or cultural concerns (and of course, they’re related), is damn the objections, full speed ahead. Quit spending time talking about what’s really at stake here, what might be lost by any particular course of action or whether any reasonable alternatives exist.
Just do it. Because we want it and we don’t want to deal with resistance to our wants any more.
The editorial also states:
This can not be turned into a test about measuring degrees of impact.
Why not? Isn’t that what all of the issues we’re debating so vehemently boil down to? When you’ve got species and cultures on the ropes, isn’t it all about degrees of impact?
We don’t know how far we can push the Newell’s population until it irrevocably collapses, or how much we can denigrate and suppress the Hawaiian culture in this fragile time of its renaissance until it fractures and declines once again.
But we keep acting like we do, taking just another 125 Newell’s, running a non-essential project like a bike path across sands that many hold sacred.
We keep chipping away, because we either can’t see, or don’t care, what’s happening to the whole when we do.
As Anne Punohu noted in a comment on “Pondering the Path:”
This culture is NOT DEAD. I meant it. So respect it. It is alive all around you. You must bend to IT not IT to you! Let us be respectful. If you are not Hawaiian, or hanai, or in any way knowledgable, ask first before you post judgment on what you see and here. You might just learn something.
Aloha. My goal is to educate, not dictate.
It was followed by the usual culturally derogatory remarks, of which one is particularly representative:
How bout this for education...we're in the USA now...not "old hawaii".
Chiefs don't mean shit.
Ever get the feeling that a lot of folks would just as soon the endangered birds were gone, so they didn’t have to worry about incidental take permits, that they would just as soon the Hawaiians were gone, so they didn’t have to worry about their bones and ancestors and other bothersome aspects of their culture that can’t be packaged for sale to the tourists?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s really behind the intensity of the debate over the path, and I believe that’s it. People are worried about what might happen if cultural pressure stemming from something as intangible as the concept of sacredness is able to effect a substantial change in the direction of an inconsequential project like a recreational path.
Heck, it just might set a nasty precedent – as nasty as the precedent of building on our beaches and hardening our coastline with a concrete path.
We know that anywhere the path is built in Wailua will have an adverse impact on iwi kupuna and the Hawaiian culture. Just as we know that installing more landscape lighting and utility lines will have an adverse impact on the Newell’s, and building along the shore will have an adverse impact on our coastline. But we keep doing it anyway, rationalizing that a little bit more won’t make any difference, until we’ve chipped away so much, that there is nothing more.
The recreational path is poorly conceived and even more poorly planned. I’ve yet to hear anyone explain just where, exactly, it is supposed to start and end, what route will it take as it encircles the island, how much it will cost and what will be lost – or rather, taken – in the process. But hey, why let those niggling questions stop us, or even slow us down? It’s time to “move on.”
Well, I, for one, and I know I’m not alone, am saying, no, it’s not. It’s time to stand firm and sort this thing out because it’s going to set some precedents, and they aren’t precedents that I and others want to live with. I don’t care if the EA has been issued, or if a small select group was planning this for years or if the federal funding will be lost if it's not used by a certain date.
Just like I don't care if KIUC has to spend a shitload of money or get its head out of the box to finally figure out a way to stop killing Newell's shearwaters.
I’m tired of the constant chipping away in the name of so-called progress -- especially when it’s being championed by people who don’t give a rat’s ass about nature or the Hawaiian culture.
I don’t know where Shilo Pa stands on the bike path, but before I left the house this morning, I had to play one of his songs, because I knew it contained the lines that speak directly to the underlying issue, and I wanted to have them going around in my head today:
“Don’t take away anymore. You already took from us before. You took our lands. Now you wanna take our sea.”