Restoring Refuge

The water at Kakahai`a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), a 44-acre area on the eastern portion of Kawela I, sits still and muddy. Native `alae ke`oke`o (Hawaiian coot) and ae`o (Hawaiian stilt) struggle to thrive. But the refuge’s management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), wants to bring back Kakahai`a’s healthy wetlands and native birds – and they now have plans to make that happen.

USFWS’s preferred 15-year management plan for Kakahai`a NWR – one of three alternative plans presented by USFWS at the Mitchell Pauole Center last week – would expand the area they actively manage and restore to 32.3 acres, up from about 4.5.

The increase, called Alternative C, would allow them to seek funding to remove invasive species, repair levees, grow native plants, control water flow via pumps, and more. Other options presented in the Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) include maintaining their actively managed acreage at 4.5 (Alternative A) or increasing it slightly to 12.5 (Alternative B).

The refuge includes 15-acre Old Pond and 5.5-acre New Pond, two areas largely overgrown by invasive plant species that absorb much of their water. Several acres of forest and grassland, as well as two acres of sandy area makai of the highway, also constitute Kakahai`a.

“We see this thing [Kakahai`a] all the time, and we have high hopes for it,” said Gene Anderson, who lives behind Kakahai`a and was one of six people who attended the meeting. He supported Alternative C, increasing the managed acreage. “[The refuge is] a beautiful thing when it’s working … It’s a treasure.”

The CCP is “not finite [and] not an exact science,” said Project Leader Glynnis Nakai, but it will allow USFWS to seek funding and grants to fuel its restoration initiatives.

Arleone Dibben-Young, who has a special use permit to bring school groups to the refuge for education, said the area is vastly different than in the early 1900s, when pond water moved freely. The invasive plants and resulting change of environment has caused difficulties for native birds like `alae ke`oke`o and ae`o. Like other attendees, Dibben-Young supported Alternative C while hoping for additional restoration in the future.

“I personally would like to have the study done to see if they can modify it back to their original size and shape of the pond,” she said. “Instead of two managed areas [Old Pond and New Pond], have one larger one [of about 20 acres].”

USFWS were receptive to the attendees’ suggestions, Nakai said – but in the end, it comes down to funding.

“What’s nice about it, is their vision is similar to ours,” she said, but added she was unsure of the cost of implementing Alternative C – let alone expanding upon it.

“I know it would be a lot [of money] because it’s a lot of work,” she said.

The public may comment on the alternatives via mail or Internet until Sept. 19. Maui National Wildlife Refuge representatives plan to submit Alternative C, along with public comments, to the USFWS regional headquarters in Portland by the end of the month, Nakai said. They hope to have a final CCP approved by the end of the year.

To view the alternatives online, visit fws.gov/kakahaia. To comment, email FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov with the words “Maui NWRC CCP” in the subject line, or write to Glynnis Nakai, Maui National Wildlife Refuge Complex, P.O. Box 1042, Kihei, HI 96753.


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