Kaua‘i Island Electric Cooperative (KIUC) recently concluded a three-year test that used an experimental laser fence system on transmission poles to prevent endangered seabirds from colliding with power lines. The co-op spends about $2.5 million a year to protect endangered wildlife and has worked with federal officials on a Habitat Conservation Plan to safeguard the more than 80 species of bird that live on the island. Carey Koide, KIUC’s transmission and distribution manager, explained the Lihue-based co-op’s efforts.
Q: KIUC has been using laser techniques and other unique methods to deal with bird populations. Have you been able to assess their effectiveness?
KOIDE: Observers have confirmed that seabirds are seeing the laser fence and flying over it, or parallel for a while then over the laser fence. We are still collecting data for times when the birds are not under direct observation. It seems as though we have worked out most of the design issues with the laser units. The laser units need to have high reliability to keep maintenance at a minimum.
Q: What did you learn from the five-year Habitat Conservation Plan?
KOIDE: Very little information was known about our seabirds due to their remote colony locations. We have found fledgling success numbers in the areas that were under predator control. Predation is occurring in high numbers, and a single predator can do lots of harm. We now have a budget that our predator-control staff uses for quick response to predators caught on cameras. This has resulted in a high success capture rate when the quick response team is dispatched. We have more accurate collision numbers and have placed satellite tags on seabirds and learned where they fly over the ocean (foraging) and over land.
Q: Do you get much member feedback or reports from members about birds along your wires?
KOIDE: Our birds are rarely seen by the public since they are nocturnal fliers. We observe our birds using infrared illuminators along with night-vision goggles and also use thermal cameras. Members across the island recover downed seabirds found along highways, subdivisions, or in their yards and turn them in to our aid stations across the island. [Aid stations are located at each county fire station.] Our “Save Our Shearwaters” Program administered by the Kaua‘i Humane Society rehabilitates each seabird, if required, then releases them once meeting established release criteria. Employees are very much engaged. They pick up seabirds on their way to work.
Q: What lessons, tips, or advice would you give co-ops that have not yet adopted a bird protection plan?
KOIDE: I think every species is different and each has different circumstances. It’s important to have a committed board and CEO to build a good team to deal with these issues, and have a good relationship with the agencies involved.