Protecting Hawaii’s Natural Resources is a really big job

May 2, 2022 | General Information

My story is about the Nene, or Hawaiian Goose, Hawaii’s state bird, and its recent history in one of Kauai’s wonderful vacation spots. Imagine for a moment that you’re having a cocktail on your oceanfront lanai in luxurious Timbers Kauai, perhaps after a morning hike to a waterfall. Timbers Kauai is set on the 450-acre Hokuala resort at the entrance to beautiful Kalapaki Beach. It is one of the Garden Isle’s newest opportunities for whole or fractional ownership and vacation rentals.

Other “guests” enjoying this luxurious landscape, its gardens, golf course and lagoons, are Nene birds. Developers of Timbers Kauai created the perfect ecosystem for Nene and several other endangered birds. All of them are federally protected and managed by the Hokuala resort under their Habitat Conservation Program (HCP).

An important part of the Hawaiian culture, the numbers of wild Nene dramatically dropped with the introduction of dogs, cats, mongoose, rats, and the arrival of people. Many years ago Hokuala was one of the most successful breeding grounds for Nene. Hundreds of Nene thrived on the gorgeous property. Why not? They had the food they like to eat, ponds they like to swim in, and ample nesting areas. Free of predatory mongoose, Kauai and Hokuala became safe places for Nene to raise goslings.

Hokuala’s HCP works closely with Hawaii’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to look after Nene and other endangered waterbirds that include: ‘Alaeke’oke’o (Hawaiian Coot); Alae’ula (Common Moorhen); Koloa (Hawaiian Duck); and A’eo (Hawaiian Stilt). However, as part of any such story, there almost always seems to be a glitch. In this instance, unfortunately nesting of Nene at the Hokuala Timbers Resort had become a safety problem for local flights in and out of Lihu’e Airport.

A few months ago guests and neighbors were invited to an event at the Resort sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Hawai‘i (WS-Hawa’i). The purpose of the event was to introduce a one-year pilot program to solve Lihu’e’s flight safety problem. WS-Hawai’i had formed and trained canine teams, consisting on border collies and their handlers, to chase nene away from the area without injuring them. In addition to herding dogs, these handlers as well as WS-Hawa‘i employees also would use golf carts, walk, run, wave flags or flashlights – anything to get nene to leave their Hokuala home.

The herding dogs – quade and guinn — arrived on the island in mid-2019. Since then the WE-Hawaii reports that there has been a 90% decrease in the number of nene on Hokuala. Hopefully all of the nene have found places to land for their breeding season which runs August through March. The actual whereabouts of the nene from Hokuala are unknown. But satellite tags were fitted to about 10 birds to monitor their movements.

Hopefully the nene have found new homes where they can bring some joy. One reported sighting said that more 30 nene were hanging out at the County of Kauai’s new Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center on the outskirts of Lihue. A nene home and nesting place in the vicinity of a drug treatment center for teens on Kauai could be a blessing. The teens will have to be coached not to disturb nesting nēnē . When visitors enter a nēnē’s territory, they can provoke a gander’s defensive attack, make a goose leave her eggs or cause goslings to expend time and energy fleeing and hiding when they should be eating.