Carolyn Stephens is an endangered species management specialist for the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit.

Monday, 28 Oct 2002

HALEAKALA, Hawaii

As I step out of the government vehicle to start my day, a brisk wind hits me in the face. Armed with a plastic one-gallon milk container filled with dry dog food soaked in oil, I start my hike. Although the mention of Hawaii generally invokes thoughts of black-sand beaches and sunshine, I work 9,500 feet in the air, on a mountaintop that has frost on the ground most winter mornings and can still be chilly even in the middle of summer.

This morning, though, it’s not too bad. My thermal keeps me warm enough, although the chill gets through every once in a while. I keep the hand that isn’t carrying the bait in my pocket to keep it warm, and walk down an unmarked trail through lava rock, cinder, and native bushes to trap number one.

A Nene with a view.

My job is not a glamorous one, even as environmental jobs go, but it is extremely rewarding and very important — at least to two imperiled ground-nesting birds. I do predator control to protect the Uau (Hawaiian dark-rumped petrel) and Nene (Hawaiian goose), two endangered birds preyed on by mongooses, rats, and feral cats. The birds’ main line of defense is a network of havahart traps that surround the entire perimeter of the national park. For the predators that sneak through the perimeter traps, we’ve set other traps throughout the habitat of both the Nene and Uau.

With about 400 traps in the frontcountry along eight different traplines and about 125 traps along four different traplines in the backcountry — all of which need to be checked and rebaited at least once a week — my crew and I are never at a loss for things to do. In addition to the traplines, we also have a number of rodenticide bait stations that we check monthly and wasp traps we bait weekly to monitor the number of alien wasps. Once the predator control is done for the week, we have a chance to do some of the more fun work, such as monitoring known Uau burrows and searching for new ones. We also record the bands of Nene when we see them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love all aspects of my job, even the predator control. Although at times I get covered in vegetable oil or have wet cat and dog food flung on my face, I get to hike outside in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth and know that I am making a difference to two endangered birds. So as I rebait and check trap number one, a smile comes to my face. From trap one, I work my way down the mountainside, slowing descending the six miles back to the office, which is at 6,700 feet.

During the first half of the day, which is about how long it takes me to finish the trapline, the weather changes many times. The clouds and mist roll in and out as I descend into gulches and then climb the muddy banks back out. As I near the end of the trapline, I approach a trap that is triggered. A mongoose is caught inside and hisses with an open jaw and snapping teeth. I pick up the trap and carry it along the rest of the trapline and then back to the office.

Once I reach the office, the mongoose is humanely put down and then a necropsy is done to see what it had been eating. Luckily, there are no signs that this one consumed any birds, but all too often we find eggshell, feathers, or bird bones in the digestive tracks. By this time, it is well past lunch, so I take a break to eat and then begin transferring data from my field notebook into the database. The rest of my day is filled with office tasks — not quite as nice as being out on the mountaintops of Hawaii, but still an important part of the work I do.