Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Musings: Bad Decisions

Clouds mottled the light from the big moon, confusing the roosters into thinking they were crickets and so should crow all night, but because there are so many they create a pleasant sort of white noise, like the rushing sea. It was to this sound that the dogs and I awoke and went to watch the beginning of the day.

It started out as a streak of pale, and then came the color. Pink puffballs floated across a backdrop of gray and blue, which became butterscotch as the horizon caught fire. The Giant turned rusty in the glow, fine white fringe draped itself over the blue summit of Waialeale and Makaleha was under siege from an advancing mass of black.

And through this splendor marched that incredibly ugly line of tall power poles strung with numerous lines, creating what Earthjustice attorney David Henkin so aptly described as a an “aerial drift net” indiscriminately killing birds in a critical Newell’s shearwater flyway.

But hey, we can trust KIUC, which had to be indicted by the feds and sued twice by conservationists before it finally cleaned up its act with protected birds, to do the right thing as it pursues hydro under the guidance of its mainland consultants, Free Flow Power.

Because, as KIUC Board member Ben Sullivan says, in a 50-minute KIUC spin-a-thon posted on For Kauai by Hawaii Stream, “we’re accountable to you.”

You know, Ben, I really want to believe that elected officials are accountable first and foremost to the voters. After all, isn’t that the cornerstone of a democracy? But in the real world of politics, I’ve seen politicians at the county, state and federal level blow off the public and make incredibly bad decisions, yet keep getting re-elected. So my faith is kinda shaky.

Which brings me to a resolution that the County Council, despite what The Garden Island reported, has not yet passed, but is apparently poised to approve tomorrow.

I’m not exactly sure why the Council decided to delve into a topic that seems outside its purview — the controversial practice of trapping and neutering feral cats, and then returning them to the wild. But since it has, members now bear the responsibility of making a good decision when they cast their votes on whether to endorse a resolution that supports the TNR program “as a component of a humane approach to controlling Kauai’s homeless and feral cat population.”

On the surface, it does seem like a good thing. Most people feel sorry for the wild cats and their tragic lives, and no one likes the idea of asking the folks at the Humane Society to kill more animals. I know they’re not keen on it, either.

But it defies common sense, especially for a county that just last year faced federal charges and fines for illegally taking protected birds, to support wild cat colonies in areas known to be inhabited by endangered water birds and protected migratory seabirds.

Even when federal wildlife biologist Michael Mitchell flat out warned the Council that ““TNR practices likely violates the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act because a TNR colony here on Kauai will most likely result in the direct take of protected species, whether it be a Hawaiian duck, Newell’s shearwater, or one of the other five species of federally threatened or endangered ground nesting birds found on Kauai,” there was resistance.

Councilman Tim Bynum, certainly no authority, countered that he didn’t think TNR was a problem, while Kauai Ferals founder Margaret Sueoka, fired from the county attorney’s office, uttered what every cat owner, including Councilman Dickie Chang, knows to be a lie: a cat that is fed daily has no desire to roam at night for food.

Mitchell went on to tell the Council that the program would be “counterproductive” to protecting endangered species, and that necropsies had found native birds in the stomachs of wild cats. It's pretty clear. Native birds and feral cats don’t mix.

Yet currently the Kauai Humane Society, which receives substantial funding from the county, is supporting a TNR program at the Marriott, which has so many species of endangered birds that special training was required for contractors working at the adjacent Kauai Lagoons.

There’s also the very real problem of the cats transmitting toxoplasmosis, which reportedly caused the death of two endangered monk seals. Yet KHS is supporting a TNR program at Larsen’s (Lepeuli), which is frequented by mother seals and their pups and most certainly would have nesting shearwaters and albatrosses if they weren’t being killed by feral cats and pet dogs. (Yet surprisingly, there’s no outcry from the supposed defenders of that beach.)

KHS also supports a TNR program at Lydgate, another place that certainly should have wedgetail shearwaters, because I’ve heard them beneath the condos on the north side of the Wailua River. It’s got another one at PMRF, where albatross try to nest, but the navy won’t let them, and at the Safeway shopping center, which abuts wetlands where I have seen gallinule and other endangered water birds.

So aside from the question of whether the Council could really be so dense as to lend its support to a program that is getting a thumbs down from the feds, there’s the issue of how KHS can legitimately accept money from the county and KIUC to protect Newell’s shearwaters even as it’s supporting the feral cats kill them.

I understand why KHS likes TNR. It's supposedly cheaper and definitely less disturbing than euthanasia, and it’s touted as “saving animals,” which encourages people to donate money.

Problem is, while they’re saving cats, of which the planet has no shortage, they’re killing birds that are already edging toward extinction and exist nowhere else in the world.

Cat huggers — and don’t get me wrong, I love kitties, too — might not want to face that reality. But it’s important that our elected officials do.


Anonymous said...

I think most if not many people on Kauai agree that feral cats are a problem and that the TNR program should not be supported by the governement. BTW, I am a cat lover too.

Anonymous said...

Once again, it's easy to kvetch and say what shouldn't be done. Hardly takes any imagination at all. How about putting some of the overthought that goes into the first couple of paragraphs into trying for once to craft some solutions instead.

Anonymous said...

Resources should be used to educate pet owners to spay/neuter. Implement fines for those who don't comply and leash law for cats. Like dogs they shouldn't be allowed to roam free.

Hate it when Bynum thinks he knows better than experts who work in the field of wildlife management...dumbass. Nene are all over Lihue from Huleia to Kauai lagoons to Kilohana to Wailua falls area. If they are going to manage colonies than fence them in. Contain the cats. Don't just pass this half-hearted resolution. I thought Nadine's plan was worthwhile pursuing.

Anonymous said...

June 14, 2011 10:02 AM

Where are YOUR solutions? Instead of trying to tear down someone who is educating people about the issues.

Anonymous said...

Anyone that actually watched the issue and what was actually said at the council meeting would know why there is support for Rapozo's TNR resolution. This posting is off point and misrepresents peoples actual position.

Anonymous said...

The feral cat population on Big Island is estimated at over 1,000,000.

At what point, who is responsible for what? Taking care of the aina, is an elected official's responsibility.

Thanks Joan for your input but I don't want Kauai to have the same problem as Big Island.

Anonymous said...

Imagine what the rat/mouse population would be on the BI if it weren't for those cats.

Anonymous said...

Are you going to apologize to Margaret Sueoka for writing that she was "fired for incompetence," or are you trying to disappear it quietly down the memory hole? What does this say about your journalistic integrity?

Anonymous said...

They use to have indigeous birds on BI but not now...mongoose and feral cats are one of their biggest environmental issues.


Anonymous said...

I don't deny the bird issue with cats, but there is also the rodent issue.

Joan Conrow said...

Are you going to apologize to Margaret Sueoka for writing that she was "fired for incompetence,"

You're right. I'm sorry, Margaret. What I actually was told was that you were fired for being "dead wood."

Anonymous said...

Rodents can still be killed by neutred cats? Or does neutrering effect their hunting abilities?

I'm pretty sure that the neutered cats will kill wildlife, and rodents,and birds, mine do.

Larry said...

Rats can be killed by YouTube videos. It works.

Seriously, what worked was rat traps and all the other control measures that were taken in reaction to the video and a 50-60% dropoff in business.

The rat situation on Kauai is surely different, but there are still measures that can be taken to reduce their number if it is a problem. Leaving it to the cats is not one of them because the cats will do a job on the birds, as has been well debated in this article.

There are solutions, though I suspect no one will like them, least of all the former cats.

Anonymous said...

So Al says that by reducing populations, by humanily limiting the growth rate, and re-releasing into the wild, would be a violation of the federal environmental species act?

We have a letter from the EPA instructing the County that this would be a violation or is this an opinion, authored by an local environmental attorney?

Facts, please?

Anonymous said...

Rats eat bird eggs - especially ground dwellers like shearwaters/petrels. Cats may eat a smaller or young bird, but unlikely grown bird and far more likely kill a rat for food.

Anonymous said...

What's missing from this piece is the fact that TNR means neutering or spaying every cat. Which eliminates them better than trap-and-kill, because people will help make sure every cat is trapped and fixed (instead of interfering with efforts to trap and put cats down), and because the neutered cats use resources (like all the open trash cans that the County leaves around for tourists to leave their half-eaten plate lunches in) so that reproducing cats don't move in and spawn at an increased rate due to additional access to resources.

The goal of TNR is to eliminate feral cats through non-lethal means. The data show that it works. http://www.alleycat.org

There is no reasonable interpretation of the ESA that would call TNR a violation, as it's an effort that reduces the impact on endangered species, and in fact TNR efforts across the country have never been named in any lawsuit regarding the ESA.

KHS has been euthanizing cats at a rate of 2,000 to 3,000 per year, every year, with no reduction in the feral cat population, no improvement for bird survival rates, and no end in sight. That's an average of five to eight cats per day, every day.

And this is all despite the fact that the only documented kills of endangered birds have been by rats and dogs. Cats have even been taped "checking out" Newell's shearwater nests and then moving on without any move toward harming them. Contrast that with gruesome footage of rats dismembering and eating the young in the nest, and packs of dogs tearing apart young and old alike.

In 2011 it was past time to embark on a large-scale solution to the problem of feral cat reproduction, and it is well past time now. Euthanasia is not a solution, only a symptom of the problem. The solution is spaying and neutering. It's unfortunate that KHS and the County are heading in the opposite direction. The numbers of feral cats will only increase as a result of their short-sighted and unproven strategies.