The moon, which will be full upon rising tonight, was high in the sky and almost perfectly lined up with Jupiter when Koko and I stood beneath its light last night, me petting the horses, she sniffing the scent history of the place.
This morning, as we prepared to walk out into the waning darkness, a barn owl screeched and I realized I haven’t heard one single Newell’s shearwater this season. I used to hear their distinctive wheezing-braying calls often, right after sunset or in the pre-dawn hours, but this year, nary a one.
I’ve found several dead ones, though, including as recently as a week ago when I passed one lying between the cones of the contra lane on Kuhio Highway. Like all the others I’d seen, it was lying beneath a death trap of a dozen utility lines strung between poles.
It was a sight that filled me with deep sorrow, but might have made Rich Rapozo happy. He’s been getting a lot of publicity, thanks to his oh-so-clever “Buck the Firds” tee-shirt and ugly warning, printed in a widely distributed AP story, that some people won’t pick up the fallen fledglings this month and next because they’re angry about Friday night football games being cancelled.
Hey, Rich, I realize you and the other football families are unhappy and I sincerely do sympathize. I know, from seeing the impact on a friend of mine, that the cancellation has been a drag, a disappointment and even a hardship. But please, don’t take it out on the birds. They’re just doing what they’ve been doing for millions of years, long before people came to Hawaii and greatly disrupted their way of life. If you want to lay blame, lay it where it belongs: on KIUC, the county — heck, even you and me, since we're the consumers of those services.
KIUC has known for more than 20 years that its power lines are killing birds, but it just blew off the problem until it finally got sued, as did the St. Regis, which recently settled by agreeing to reduce its nighttime glow and contribute about $150,000 to habitat restoration projects around the island.
Similarly, the county was warned more than five years ago to shield the stadium lights. It also blew off the problem, flagrantly flouting federal law until prosecutors put the county’s feet to the fire this year.
But rather than publicly acknowledge and accept responsibility for its own foot dragging, the county threw the birds under the bus. Friday night football games were cancelled — something that state and federal wildlife officials had never requested — and so began the backlash against the birds.
It’s a part of a backlash against native species that extended as well to reviewing the management plan for the Hawaiian Humpback Whale Sanctuary and a proposal to possibly add turtles, monk seals and corals to the list of species protected in it.
Suddenly you had people like Greg Holzman — a bottom fisherman whose industry keeps pushing Wespac for higher fishing quotas, even as scientists warn the stocks are crashing — whipping up hysteria by claiming that the feds were going to impinge on folks' ocean-going freedoms.
He was joined in his crusade by another free entepriser, Scott Mijares, who recently hosted a KKCR radio show in which he railed against federal plans to “take away our culture." I can only assume he was referencing his own transplanted Southern California Republican surfer culture.
Both he and Holzman, who also moved here from America, complained bitterly that “people from outside Hawaii" would have a say in what happened in the sanctuary, because public comments were being accepted from around the world.
As a result of these widely publicized hysterics, a friend approached me last week with a petition to sign. It stated that the undersigned supported the educational functions of the sanctuary, but not any expansion. He’d been motivated to seek signatures after being told the feds planned to ban all shore fishing on Kauai — no diving, no pole fishing, no net fishing, no nothing.
I tried to convince him his information was wrong, but as a fisherman who often feeds his family with his catch, he wasn’t taking any chances. And besides, that’s what he’d heard.
“What’s next?” asked another friend who was listening to our discussion. “Communism?”
I imagine many hundreds of signatures were collected in such a manner. Yet I have to wonder what value they have, what weight they'll carry, seeing as how they were gathered under false pretenses.
I understand animosity toward the feds, especially here in colonized Hawaii. Still, it wasn’t enough for Holzman and his tour boat buddies to blast the feds and the sanctuary and moan about losing their “rights.” They also began talking stink about the animals, spreading shibai like monk seals — one of the world’s most critically endangered marine mammals — are plentiful and humpback whales, which don’t even feed here, are becoming so abundant they’re threatening to outstrip the local food supply.
When it comes to the natural world, ignorance abounds and is intentionally disseminated by those — like Rich Rapozo and his simplistic “Buck the Firds” shirt — who just want to do what they want to do, without looking at the bigger picture.
What the bigger picture shows us is that far too many creatures have already been pushed to the fringes of their habitat, the brink of extinction, and if we keep pushing, they’re going to be gone.
I'm sure a lot of folks don't care if the animal world is reduced to pets and cloned livestock. But diminishing biological diversity has an affect on humans, too. Everything has a place and a role in the web of life, and as species decline and disappear, the overall ecosystem functions less and less efficiently.
We really don’t know where the tipping point lies, that place of no return where it all falls apart. But if we keep on pushing, we just may find out.
And we won’t have anyone but ourselves to blame.