HONOLULU – Hawaii’s state bird was once so endangered, there were just 30 left on the planet.
Now, the Aloha State is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to move hundreds of geese away from runways at the airport on the Garden Island of Kauai.
Officials want to keep the gray, brown and white-feathered geese known as nene from disrupting flights to an island that welcomes more than 1 million visitors a year. Or worse, endanger passengers like when a bird strike knocked out both engines of a U.S. Airways jet, forcing it to crash-land in New York’s Hudson River in 2009.
In the past few months, state workers snatched nearly 300 geese from the fairways and ponds of a golf course next door and sent them to Maui and the Big Island on helicopters and a Coast Guard plane.
It’s an unusual problem for Hawaii, where nearly all native birds are in danger of becoming extinct. The small island state is home to one-third of the nation’s endangered avian species.
“It’s great to reach the point in the recovery where your biggest problem is you have too many birds,” said Scott Fretz, wildlife program manager at the state Department of Natural Resources. “I wish I had similar problems with more of our endangered species.”
The state has established safe spaces for the nene to nest in Maui and the Big Island by setting up fences to keep out mongoose and other feral animals.