The ping, crack and thunk of small projectiles hitting the skylights continue to keep Koko on edge this wildly windy day. Gusts from the southwest are whipping down from Waialeale, causing branches to snap and leaves to skitter and the horses’ manes to lift and all the trees to sigh.
I always associate winter wind with Laysan albatrosses, because these are the days they love to soar and swoop and glide, using their intricate and intimate understanding of the wind to propel their big bodies effortlessly through space. They’re absolutely magnificent, like the humpbacks that also come to Hawaii in the winter months to breed.
The albatrosses were here long before any people, but were driven out by hungry humans and kept out by plantation crops. They’ve only recently begun to return — Gary Smith saw the first one in modern times land at Crater Hill, where it was inexplicably shot, back in the 1970s.
Since then, they’ve gained a toehold at the Kilauea lighthouse and found tenuous refuge on private North Shore Kauai land, where they’ve been intermittently ravaged by dogs. They are very much a species at risk on Kauai, and due to the mongoose threat elsewhere, this is the only main island where they stand a chance to thrive.
So I was greatly distressed when a friend, who is also an environmentalist, expressed the sentiment, in regard to opening a coastal trail that could impact one of their nesting colonies, that because they are neither threatened nor endangered, “they can move over and share the road.”
Previously, she’d told me that if she had to choose between the birds and coastal access, sorry, but she’d choose the trail.
That choice was made, unwittingly, and most certainly without consulting the seabirds, when the old coastal trail between Moloa`a and Ka`aka`aniu was reopened after much contentious wrangling with Tom McCloskey, owner of Moloaa Bay Ranch. Just a few weeks ago, an albatross and three wedgetail shearwaters nearly ready to fledge were found dead along that trail, victims of a dog attack.
We pet-loving humans don’t, it seems, share the road too well.
I was told that McCloskey was so burned out by the trail easement process that he didn’t want to go through the hassle and expense of getting a conservation district permit to install the fencing that could have protected the seabirds nesting on his property.
So the public got its access, which is a good thing, but in the process, the landowner was greatly alienated -- and I am not intending to paint a sympathetic portrait of McCloskey, who has never shown himself to be a friend of access or the environment -- and as a result, the wildlife was put at risk.
Now, as negotiations begin to open another section of that coastal trail, the next landowner in line is eying the process warily. From what I hear, she’s not opposed to allowing public access, but she wants to make sure that dogs don’t end up in the colony and people don’t end up on her porch — both of which have happened with bad results in the past.
Meanwhile, I’ve been hearing folks claim that she is using the birds as a convenient excuse to keep people out. They’re also circulating letters and emails contending that the fence she erected to protect the birds is blocking an ancient public access. The state reportedly does still owns a historic trail that runs through her land, but its exact route has not been determined and no easement has been approved.
But true or false, these comments are serving to effectively vilify this woman, even though she has something we want — lateral coastal access — and at her own expense is doing a good thing — providing safe habitat for nesting albatrosses.
Here we go again, I thought, suddenly weary of behavior that I also have engaged in countless times: approaching an issue from the tight little corners of either-or, this or that, black or white, good or bad. Can’t we start from the place of considering a solution that provides access and protects the interests of the landowner and the birds? ('Cause I know there must be one.) Must we always go about things from the polarizing angle of we want what we want at any cost — indeed, we’re entitled — and if forced to, we'll back down from there?
I’ve been musing about the concepts of compromise and polarization for a number of weeks, since the Wailua bike path issue hit the fan. During a spirited discussion on my KKCR radio show, a caller characterized the boardwalk as a compromise because it’s a removable structure. But my co-host disagreed, saying it would still impact burials and “some things can’t be compromised.”
Her words rang true to me then, and they still do. Some things clearly can’t be compromised, not if we want them to survive or retain any intrinsic value. And when it comes to nature and ancient culture — entities without a human voice — people with a conscience need to speak up and stand firm on their behalf.
But clearly some things can be compromised, like the location of a house or a trail or a bike path. And surely we humans, with the higher intelligence that we like to confer upon ourselves, can find a way to address these issues without falling into the ugly, exhausting polarization that I constantly witness — and admittedly have participated in — on this island.
One good place to start is the related issue of the Larsen’s Beach access, which I will address in my next post in this series.