On Endangered Species Day: Open Letter to Judge Castagnetti

The Honorable Jeannette Castagnetti
First Circuit Court of Hawai‘i
Ka‘ahumanu Hale
777 Punchbowl Street
Honolulu, HI 96813

Dear Judge Castagnetti:

Christian Gutierrez and the two juveniles involved in the massacre of Hawai‘i’s native Laysan albatross deserve to be sentenced to the fullest extent of the law.

Allow me to explain.

Laysan albatross—mōlī—are seabirds native to Hawai‘i. Associated with the god Lono, albatross return to land during makahiki season. Revered for their seafaring ways, they played a vital role in traditional knowledge and ways of life. Their bones were also used in the art of tattoo.

Today, these birds migrate to land every November to nest and, as such, are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as you are well aware. Laysan albatross are not considered endangered—yet—and our state and federal governments are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep them off the endangered species list.

Currently, 99 percent of this species nests in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands under the protection of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, with more than 70 percent of the population nesting at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Due to climate change and sea level rise, biologists are concerned much of the albatross’ nesting habitat at the atoll is vulnerable to wave inundation. Hence, a team of biologists comprised of multiple agencies and non-profits are creating a new colony of Laysan albatross at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on O‘ahu’s North Shore with eggs collected from Kaua‘i.

At Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kaua‘i, where Laysan albatross nest too close to a runway, the US Navy has been collecting fertilized eggs from nests and swapping them with unfertilized eggs at nests elsewhere on the island. All this to discourage the birds from nesting at PMRF. A few years ago, base biologists started sending eggs to Ka‘ena Point to be incubated by nesting adults who had infertile eggs in their nests. Once the eggs hatched, the chicks were taken to James Campbell NWR where they eventually fledged. Because Laysan albatross tend to return to the place they fledged, it’s expected many will return there to nest.

So, you see, these aren’t just any old birds. They are not invasive. They are birds respected and revered by the local culture and scientific community.

Please do not give Gutierrez a sentence that’s equivalent to the slap on the wrist. Jail time is needed here not only to help him correct his behavior but to also understand the concept of cause and effect. What’s more, other eyes are watching. A slap-on-the-wrist sentence only emboldens others to commit similar heinous acts. Case in point: A few months after Gutierrez’s murderous behavior, a young man on Kaua‘i attacked an endangered pregnant Hawaiian monk seal. Gutierrez’s slaughter of innocent Laysan albatross is not the first time Hawai‘i’s native fauna has been viciously attacked; however, I hope it will be the last. I encourage you to sentence him in a way that sends a message to others that animal abuse will not be tolerated. Laws will be upheld. Justice served.

Hawai‘i’s Laysan albatross belong to all of Hawai‘i. In killing Laysan albatross, Gutierrez violated not only the right to life of the birds but my rights and the rights of every other resident of Hawaii.

Again, I encourage you to sentence Christian Gutierrez to the fullest extent of the law.

Mahalo,

Kim Steutermann Rogers

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