Air Force kills the lights at Hawaii station to save endangered birds

The U.S. Air Force will reduce exterior lighting at a Hawaii facility to help protect endangered and threatened seabirds there.

The Air Force agreed to reduce lighting at a mountaintop radar facility on the island of Kauai, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. After the announcement, the Center for Biological Diversity said it no longer intends to sue the Air Force.

The nonprofit conservation group says the threatened Newell’s shearwater and Hawaiian petrel are attracted to bright lights at night, which can cause crashes onto the ground and sometimes death.

The center believes lights at the Kokee Air Force Station caused more than 130 birds to fall out of the air in 2015, including Hawaiian petrels, endangered band-rumped storm petrels and Newell’s shearwaters. Most of them died, the center said.

Exterior lighting at Kokee AFB. (Photo by USFWS)

The Kokee Air Force Station was founded in 1961 to detect and track all aircraft operating near Hawaii.

The Air Force has taken steps to try to reduce the bird losses over the years, including switching from white and yellow exterior bulbs to green ones in 2013, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Air Force also said in June 2016 that it had agreed to turn off outside lights from April through December, when birds are going to and from colonies.

But the Center for Biological Diversity threatened legal action at the end of June 2016, saying the Air Force was violating the Endangered Species Act by not updating its formal consultation about seabirds with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The center said the Air Force reinitiated the consultation and agreed to ongoing protective measures in response.

The Air Force is “committed to protecting the threatened and endangered bird species that frequent the area around Mt. Kokee Air Force Station,” Col. Frank Flores wrote in an email to The Star-Advertiser.

Flores is the commander of the Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center, which provides oversight for Kokee Station.

“We have collaborated closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services over the years on this issue. We take environmental stewardship very seriously and will continue to partner with USFWS to protect these species,” Flores wrote.

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