A recent study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that as many as 1,800 of the indigenous seabirds are dying every year when they fly into power lines, a rate that is raising alarms for community members and conservationists.
Both birds were provided special protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in the 1960s and ’70s as a result of numerous threats to their existence. In addition to the power line problem, invasive predator species and the degradation of the seabirds’ habitat have contributed to their endangered status.
“For many years folks have known that birds have been colliding with these power lines, but we assumed it was a smaller issue,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental organization.
Newell’s shearwater was protected as endangered in 1975.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
“This study is revealing that these collisions may be the biggest threat — power lines are killing huge parts of the population,” Hartl said.
The USFWS study predicts that, unless measures are taken to reduce the deaths, all colonies of the two species on Kauai could vanish in about 30 years.
Theresa Geelhoed, field technician for the project, said this measure alone could reduce collisions by 50 percent if applied in all necessary areas.
The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative is also removing the top line from each utility tower in high collision areas in an effort to reduce the number of fatal encounters.
“We found that the power lines that the birds are (colliding) with most are the ones at the top,” Geelhoed said.
The USFWS study says that despite the sharp decline in the Newell’s Shearwater population, proper and timely mitigation strategies could help certain colonies survive past the current mid- to end- of century extinction projection.
“The good news is, since it’s a man-made problem, there’s something that can be done to work toward fixing it,” Geelhoed said.
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