KIHEI - A 15-year draft conservation plan for Kealia Pond includes a proposal to control the seasonal midge swarms "more naturally" by managing the water level in the South Maui wildlife refuge.
The Kealia Pond and Kakahai'a National Wildlife Refuges' Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plans and Environmental Assessments were recently released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for public review.
The Kealia Pond draft plan calls for draining some water during the high water winter months to "get the water down so that we are not providing a habitat for midges," said refuge Manager Glynnis Nakai this week.
A group of Hawaiian stilts hangs out at Kealia Pond along North Kihei Road in 2005. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released draft conservation management plans and environmental assessments for Kealia Pond and the Kakahai‘a national wildlife refuges. The plans would guide management of the refuges for the next 15 years. Managing the water level in Kealia Pond is among the draft proposals. That could reduce the problem of winter-season midge infestations in north Kihei.
The Maui News file photo
Refuge officials have the ability to put water into the pond by pumping brackish water from wells, but they do not have control over drainage and ultimately the water level, she said.
Methoprene, a larvicide, is used to reduce the swarms of the small, two-winged bugs that cling to screens and die in heaps on lanais in north Kihei from mid-December to mid-April when the pond is filled with water.
The refuge is looking for "a way to control them (the bugs) more naturally. We are looking at water control and water coverage" instead of methoprene to shorten the midge season, Nakai said.
Under the "preferred alternative" in the draft report, water would be lowered in December and January through proposed pond drainage improvements, but higher water would have to be restored in March for coot nesting, she said.
"We can try to control them (midges)," she said about the proposal in the draft plan that will be available for comment at meetings this month. "We cannot eradicate them. They are here to stay."
The water control proposal is part of the comprehensive conservation plan and environmental assessment released for Kealia Pond. A similar draft conservation plan and environmental assessment have been drawn up for Kakahai'a National Wildlife Refuge on Molokai, which is a satellite of the Maui National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Members of the public are invited to gatherings on Wednesday at the Mitchell Pauole Center in Kaunakakai and on Thursday at the Kihei Community Center. Both meetings run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The deadline for public comment is Sept. 19.
"The information we've gained from our years of research and monitoring has been used to develop the strategies that benefit endangered water birds but also take into account our neighbors' concerns," Nakai said. "This is another opportunity for the public to have important input into how their National Wildlife Refuge will be managed."
The draft conservation plan/environmental assessments offer alternative scenarios ranging from maintaining the status quo to the "preferred alternative" of full restoration and management of native habitats without regard for cost at both refuges, Nakai said.
At the 200-acre Kealia Pond, proposals include removal of invasive plants and controlling larger areas of pickleweed on the mud flats. Other proposals call for additional visitor services staff that would increase visitor and environmental educational opportunities, recruit and train volunteers to assist with refuge programs, and help provide vegetated barriers and/or blinds for better wildlife viewing opportunities, said a news release about the draft plan.
Established in 1992, the Kealia refuge is a one of the few remaining natural wetlands in the Hawaiian Islands and is home to the endangered ae'o, or Hawaiian stilt, and 'alae ke oke'o, or Hawaiian coot. Adjacent to the pond is Kealia Beach, which is a nesting ground for the endangered hawksbill turtle.
Coots nest in the vegetation and winter high water from three West Maui Mountains and two Haleakala streams that feed the pond. As summer approaches and the water recedes, the pond readies for stilt nesting, Nakai said. That filling and draining of the pond is a natural process and a necessity for the health of the ecosystem in the refuge, she said.
The ecological health of the Kakahai'a National Wildlife Refuge is not the best. The two ponds on the 44.6-acre wildlife refuge established in 1976 are "almost nonfunctional for water birds" because of encroachment by the California Bulrush. The invasive grass has "pretty much covered one of the ponds," the 15-acre spring-fed Old Pond, so birds cannot not see it from the air, she said.
Like Kealia, Kakahai'a was established as a refuge to protect a habitat for the stilt and coot and other migratory birds.
In 1983, a 5.5-acre "New Pond" was built to provide a shallow-water habitat for wading birds, the Kakahai'a website said. When it rains, New Pond fills, and birds can be seen wading there, Nakai said.
Work on Kakahai'a has been "minimal," Nakai said. A wildlife refuge worker goes there every other week and spends most of the time trying to keep New Pond clear of brush.
Among the proposals in the draft report is an archaeological study, Nakai said. It is known that Old Pond was used as a rice paddy at one time; it also appears to have been a Hawaiian inland fishpond but an archaeological study is necessary for confirmation, she said.
Other "preferred alternatives" for Kakahia'a include installing a fence to block out predators, clearing and repairing levees and building an observation area to improve the visitor experience, the news release said.
Extensive 15-year draft plans are being offered for both maintenance and improvements at both refuges, but "the service notes that the expanded programs proposed . . . are not currently funded and therefore would not be implemented until such time as additional resources are appropriated for these purposes," the news release said.
Once the meetings and collection of comments are completed, refuge staff will evaluate the comments for possible addition to the conservation plan/environmental assessments. The finalized plan will then be sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional office in Portland, Ore., for final review and approval, Nakai said.
Copies of the full documents and/or a summary may be obtained at the refuge administrative office or by calling the refuge at 875-1582.
Comments on the draft plans and environmental assessments may be made at an open house meeting or by letter, fax or email. All comments must be submitted or postmarked by Sept. 19 to be considered.
Comments may be sent by email to FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov with Maui NWRC CCP in the subject line; by mail to Glynnis Nakai, Project Leader, P.O. Box 1042, Kihei 96753; or by fax to 875-2945.
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