Cooperatove Conservation Project

Seabird Protection Program

Location: Far West Region: Hawaii

Project Summary: The Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Ulupa’u weapons range is the site for a collaborative effort to protect red-footed boobies through state-of-the-art conservation practices.
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Red-footed boobies (Sula sula rubripes) at protected nesting/roosting habitat at Ulupa’u Crater, Marine Corps Base, Hawaii. PHOTO BY TIM SUTTERFIELD.
Resource Challenge
Operating the Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s Ulupa’u Weapons Range poses some unique problems: its 145 acres is sited in an extinct volcanic crater bordered by housing and oceanside cliffs.  As an added challenge, the Base hosts an internationally renowned colony of more than 2,000 seabirds, the largest nesting population of red-footed boobies in the main Hawaiian Islands, atop the Crater.  The greatest threat to red-footed boobies is brush fires, easily triggered by ricochets in dry grass.  Foreign grasses have invaded the Range landscape and lack natural controls.  Traditional controls, such as mowing and controlled burns, are diffi cult because the area is likely to harbor unexploded ordnance.  As a matter of safety, the Marine Corps generally allows fi res in impact areas to burn.  In this instance, letting brushfires burn is unacceptable because of federal laws that protect the red-footed booby, potential adverse public reaction and lawsuits, and post-fi re erosion runoff into pristine ocean waters.
Examples of Key Partners
Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, USDI Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Pacific Islands Office, Hawaii Audubon Society, and Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter.
Results and Accomplishments
For more than twenty years, base environmental staff, the FWS, and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources have teamed with Navy contractors, Marines, engineers, regulators, and fire and safety personnel, implementing more than $5 million in range improvements aimed at reducing brush fire risks. The base has installed firebreaks, water delivery systems, fire response equipment, and, with the help of Hawaii Audubon Society, has
installed artificial nesting trees, maintained by volunteers, that lure birds to less fire-prone areas.

The latest innovations include a $350,000 geotextile groundcover, anchored by a gravel cover, to suppress grasses under nesting trees, as well as four solar-powered, remote-controlled water cannons to quickly extinguish grass fires. These innovations have lowered the frequency and intensity of brushfires and reduced the need for labor-intensive weed-control that interrupts training and jeopardizes safety.

Proactive measures have yielded multiple benefits: the Marines can continue training, the base and its partners helped protect the birds, and the base has built positive relationships with governments, environmental advocacy groups, and the public.

New technology, applied in cooperation with stakeholders, conserves bird habitat while allowing the military to continue using its firing range.

Project Contact
Ms. Elizabeth Kumabe
Hawaii Audubon Society



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