An amended bill on hunting lands will head to the state Senate Committee on Water and Land on Monday.
The bill initially would have required the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to replace any hunting lands lost to conservation or other efforts.
The version the House passed on March 4 instead says the department shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the loss of public hunting areas. It also requires DLNR to form a hunting advisory commission and submit an annual report on hunting lands to the Legislature.
DLNR said the original version was unworkable.
Rep. Cindy Evans, who introduced the bill, said she recognized that the department may not be able to replace hunting areas in every case. But she thinks the bill would still be effective.
“We don’t want a net loss. That’s the policy,” said Evans, D-Kohala, North Kona. “But we recognize you may not be able to (replace it) one for one.”
In his testimony, DLNR Chair William Aila said the goals of the original bill were “impractical or impossible to achieve.” He also criticized it for impacting the department’s conservation obligations.
“Restricting the department’s ability to carry out those responsibilities will result in loss of watershed yield and function, damage to native ecosystems … and may result in lawsuits resulting from take of endangered species,” Aila wrote to the Legislature.
The department has been in a tug-of-war with hunters over the issue of conservation. DLNR says it needs to remove ungulates to protect native plant species and watersheds, while hunters criticize the department for not taking their needs into account.
The impact could be the greatest on the Big Island, which hosts the bulk of the public hunting lands.
About 25 percent of the island is considered available for public hunting, according to DLNR. Of that, about 38 percent is in watershed areas, which is where the interests of the state and hunters tend to collide.
Hawaii County formed its Game Management Advisory Commission to try to address those concerns.
A major issue is fencing, which DLNR uses to protect native plant species. But it can also involve the removal of ungulates from the enclosed areas, which worries hunters.
At a meeting before the commission last month, Lisa Hadway, head of DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said 1.4 percent of hunting lands on the island are currently fenced. DLNR plans to eventually increase that to 22.2 percent of public hunting lands, she said.
Tony Sylvester, commission chairman, said he is glad to see lawmakers listen to hunters’ concerns.
“We’re really, really proud of them,” he said. “They are really coming to the plate, taking our concerns and taking it seriously.”
Sylvester said he is also hopeful the bill can reach a balance, and he is offering amendments that would require DLNR to use resource management strategies when dealing with ungulates.
Evans said DLNR and hunters can find common ground, and that she thinks a statewide hunting advisory commission would be effective.
“I think so if the department starts looking at hunters as the best conservation (tool) in the state,” she said.
“They are out there managing the populations … they are your eyes and ears” in the forest.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.