The Peregrine Gallery
Sightings from The Catbird Seat
~ o ~
The Peregrine Fund Transfers State
Contract to San Diego Zoo
From Environment Hawaii
O n December 10, representatives of The Peregrine Fund appeared before the Board of Land and Natural Resources with a request to allow the transfer of its $300,000-a-year state contract to manage endangered birds to the Zoological Society of San Diego.
At the meeting, Peregrine Fund representatives said that they were not capable of taking the captive breeding program to "the next level" and asked that San Diego Zoo take over.
With six months left to go on the contract, and “with little choice," as one piqued Land Board member put it, the Land Board approved the transfer.
Four months earlier, the fund, which established its reputation with success in breeding raptors, had sought and received Land Board approval of a one-year renewal of its annual sole-source contract (running from July through June) to operate the state-built captive breeding facility for endangered birds at Olinda, Maui.
The Peregrine Fund has run Olinda since 1996 but this year wanted a change in the contract language. Under the change, The Peregrine Fund was allowed to designate a subcontractor for management of the Maui facility.
(Separately, the fund also has been managing a Fish and Wildlife Service facility for captive propagation at Volcano, Hawai'i. The Fish and Wildlife Service has been asked to approve transfer of that facility also to the Zoological Society of San Diego.)
At the time of the Land Board's August decision, there was no hint that a transfer was in the works. In fact, Mike Buck, administrator of the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, told the board at the August meeting: "No other organization operates endangered species propagation facilities for 'alala, nene, and Hawai'i, Maui and Kaua'i forest birds."
TPF's duties include providing daily care to the birds, managing long-term breeding pro-grains for the endangered ‘alala and nene, and developing techniques for propagation and restoration.
TPF's intent to pull out of the endangered bird rearing business in Hawai'i had been widely known long before the Boards August meeting - and, in fact, was disclosed in the March 1999 issue of Environment Hawaii. A possible “partnership" with the San Diego Zoo was mentioned at the August Land Board meeting, but Buck said he had seen no documents relating to any such transfer.
Lack of Candor
Buck presented the Land Board in December with a history that, so far as the DLNR was concerned, started on October 4. That day, William Burnharn, president of TPF, wrote Buck about the planned transfer.
"As a raptor organization, we do not have the depth and staff resources to elevate the project any higher than current levels.... The next level of achievement can be accomplished best by the transition of TPF's role to another organization. The best organization in the world for this role is the Zoological Society of San Diego. The Board of Directors of the Zoological Society of San Diego and TPF each met separately in August and approved transferring TPF's responsibilities" to the zoo, Burnham wrote.
But as documents later made public show, this was by no means Buck's first direct knowledge of the proposed transfer. Well before the board's August meeting, Buck was in the loop.
At the December meeting, Carroll Cox, of the watch-dog group EnviroWatch, distributed to the board a press release from his organization, quoting a June 30, 1999, letter to Buck from The Peregrine Fund. "We are moving ahead with an agreement formalizing a partnership between the Zoological Society of San Diego (ZSSD) and the TPF in which ZSSD would operate both facilities and TPF would become more of a 'figurehead'," the letter said.
In addition, in August, DOFAW's chief wildlife biologist, Paul Conry, and Jeff Cilek of TPF exchanged e-mail messages. One from Conry to Cilek states: "How are things going with the ZSSD and TPF approval of the partnership? You may want to give Mike Buck a call today to update him before the board meeting" to occur the next day.
An August 30 e-mail from Cilek states that TPF received a signed memorandum of understanding from the zoo on August 27, the same day as the Land Board met to approve language allowing transfer of the contract.
News of these exchanges disturbed board member Colbert Matsumoto. At the August meeting, he was the member who had pointedly asked Buck about the status of TPF's negotiations with the San Diego Zoo and was told that no documents had been received.
"I'm concerned about the timing and process," Matsumoto told Buck at the December meeting. Since the TPF contract was approved a few months earlier, Matsumoto was surprised at TPF's December request for a transfer.
"TPF already had discussions with the San Diego Zoo [to transfer its contract]. If that was the case, there was an apparent lack of candor," Matsumoto continued. "Why are we abdicating our choice of vendor? From the board's standpoint, it's our responsibility [to determine the best vendor]. At this point, TPF is telling us the San Diego Zoo is capable. It's not coming from our stall, which [is supposed to have] surveyed the field.... Where was the Division [of Forestry and Wildlife] in this process?"
Buck defended TPF's selection, noting that four key people on the TPF's staff in Hawai'i came from the San Diego Zoo. "We need a continuity of staff," he said. When the Land Board transferred the job of rearing captive birds from the state to TPF in 1996, continuity of staff was apparently not as important. Several key workers of the state-run program were ousted without ceremony.
This fact did not escape Matsumoto's notice.
"I don't mean to imply that the TPF or the San Diego Zoo are not qualified," he said. "I'm more concerned about the process," noting that concerns regarding continuity did not factor at all into the decision to give TPF the contract in the first place.
For the Birds
Apart from the process, the board was questioned about the qualifications of the people running the program. "Are we getting the best science? " Cox asked the Land Board.
More than 190 endemic Hawaiian forest birds have been hatched at the Keahou and Maui facilities, including ‘alala, puaiohi, akohekohe, Maui parrotbill, palila, and akepa, according to the staff report to the board on December 10.
Does this mean that The Peregrine Fund or the San Diego Zoo is the best candidate for the job of reviving Hawai'i's endangered bird populations?
Cox has suggested that the Land Board might look elsewhere. “The Honolulu Zoo has successfully raised ‘alala, and six other zoos around the United States presently house Hawai'i forest birds and have had success in propagating them. Some of these zoos are the Houston, Brookfield, and Honolulu. There are at least 20 zoos that are currently raising nene.
"Is there anything wrong," Cox asked, "with sending out a request for proposals? Why is there a sole source to TPF?"
In response to Cox's testimony, Land Board Chair Timothy Johns said, "There might be better people. This transition covers a contract that has only six months left." ...
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Last Updated on May 25, 2007 by The Catbird