LIHUE, Hawaii — The Hawaii Department of Transportation has backed out of a habitat conservation plan aimed at protecting the state’s endangered and threatened seabirds on Kauai.

Progress on the plan to protect Newell’s shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels has slowed due to the agency’s decision to step back. The plan requires cooperation from the department in order to stay on schedule, The Garden Island reported (

Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the transportation department, said staff members have been advised not to comment on the matter because of pending litigation.

The conservation project grew out of concerns several years ago from the group Hui Hoomalu I Ka Aina, which works to protect cultural and natural resources, over the two birds’ declining populations. Researchers have found that power lines and distracting lights have caused the birds to crash down to land.

“So we made efforts for nearly 12 years to inform all these people and the utilities and the hotels that the shearwaters were crashing,” said Makaala Kaaumoana, vice president of Hui Hoomalu I Ka Aina. “At that point, there wasn’t a lot of science. We just knew there were fewer birds.”

Kaaumoana said the group sued under the Endangered Species Act to force the county, Kauai Island Utility Coop and the Princeville Resort to make changes to mitigate the loss of the birds.

In 2011, the utility, resort and county were ordered to create and carry out actions described in a habitat conservation plan. The utility created its own plan for the shearwaters, while the other two entities formed an islandwide plan and included the state transportation department in the partnership.

The department was in charge of addressing light issues at the harbor and the airport, while the county handled the lights at Vidinha Stadium.

“If they (HDOT) wanted to go off on their own that would be fine, and if the county wanted to go off on their own, that would be fine, but right now they’re all partners,” Kaaumoana said. “The Kauai islandwide (conservation plan) can’t proceed without them.”

Kaaumoana said protecting both bird species is important because they are a part of “our traditions and they are vital to our lives today.”

Information from: The Garden Island,