So far, 32 nene from Kauai have made their home on Maui after state workers last year started to remove at least several hundred of the geese near Kauai's Lihue Airport to ensure that the birds don't become flying hazards for aircraft.
The new Maui residents are being housed at a nene facility managed by the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife at Haleakala Ranch, said Thomas Ka'iakapu, Kauai wildlife manager of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
On Wednesday, he said the nene were "doing really well." He hadn't heard of any problems from Maui state officials.
State Division of Forestry and Wildlife technician Stephanie Franklin of Maui (left) and wildlife biologist Kara “Bongo” Lee of Kauai round up nene in March at the Kauai Lagoons, a resort near Lihue Airport. Since last year, state officials have been rounding up the nene in the area and shipping them to Maui and the Big Island. The move is to reduce the risk of the geese becoming flying hazards for aircraft taking off and landing.
THOMAS KA‘IAKAPU photo
The project began last year, with a first set of birds arriving on Maui in April 2011. Nene also have been sent to the Big Island.
Overall, the budget for the five-year relocation plan is approximately $6.5 million, state officials said. So far, project costs, including salaries, amount to $923,674.
Last year, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed an order suspending some state laws to allow officials to swiftly move nene from Kauai Lagoons, the resort next to the Lihue Airport where the geese have been nesting.
The nene is an endangered species and the Hawaii state bird. The nene have not caused any problems at the Lihue Airport to date, a state Department of Transportation official said Wednesday.
But the geese have thrived among the resort's green golf course fairways and ponds. The population there exploded from just 18 birds in 1999 to about 400 last year.
Since last year, state workers have removed around 300 nene from the airport area, and most of them have been taken to the Hilo watershed on the Big Island, Ka'iakapu said.
The last time Maui received nene from Kauai was in March. At that time, 10 geese were relocated to the Haleakala Ranch site where the other nene have been relocated. The site is fenced off and "predator proof," Ka'iakapu said.
The hope is that the nene will remain at the site, which is not easily accessible to humans and far from any development, he added.
Ka'iakapu said that the nene have been shipped to Maui and the Big Island via helicopter and small planes. A large shipment to the Big Island was done via a Coast Guard C130 aircraft. He added that the Coast Guard and the pilot of a small plane moved the birds for free.
Before the nene are shipped, they are quarantined in a holding pen on Kauai for six days to ensure that the birds do not have avian malaria. If the nene are sick, they are not moved, Ka'iakapu said.
When the geese are shipped in their transport cages, the cages are covered with a fine mesh net to prevent mosquitoes from biting the geese and possibly infecting them with avian malaria, he added.
Maui could see another shipment of nene, perhaps in August, depending on whether the geese remain accessible in the Kauai Lagoons area.
Ka'iakapu said he wasn't sure where on Maui those nene would reside.
One of the better times to round up the geese is in March when the adults are molting and when the young ones are strong enough to survive capture but still cannot fly, Ka'iakapu said.
He said that hopefully by 2014 the state would have removed all or if not most of the nene from the vicinity of the Lihue Airport.
Even though most of the birds will be removed from Kauai Lagoons, Ka'iakapu said there is still a healthy population of nene on Kauai. The island's nene population is estimated at around 1,500.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.