A Hilo Circuit Court judge granted a summary judgment in favor of the state Wednesday in a legal challenge of the Ka‘u Forest Reserve Management Plan.
The order effectively dismisses the lawsuit the Pele Defense Fund and four other plaintiffs filed in November 2012.
The plan includes fencing 12,000 acres, about 20 percent of the reserve, for conservation.
The plaintiffs argue the state did not properly take into account the impact of fencing on hunters and cultural practices.
Following the hearing, their attorney remained optimistic that they would succeed with an appeal.
“We have a really good silver lining,” attorney James Dombroski told about a dozen supporters following the court hearing.
Dombroski said that since Judge Glenn Hara ruled that DLNR did not make any procedural violations in completing its environmental assessment on the plan, the plaintiffs could still argue during an appeal the department erred by not conducting the more extensive environmental impact statement.
DLNR finalized the management plan in October 2012.
The fencing project, intended to protect native plant species and watersheds, includes gates and walk-overs but also would involve the removal of ungulates through hunts and trappings, which the plaintiffs oppose.
A DLNR spokeswoman said in an email the plan is being implemented. How much fence has been installed was unclear.
In a written statement, DLNR Chair William Aila said the plan is meant to balance different needs, including cultural and recreational uses.
“We believe the plan does accommodate the needs of different communities in Ka‘u,” he said.
DLNR has referred to the area to be fenced as remote, and the least often used by hunters.
Dombroski said he expects to file an appeal either with the state Court of Appeals or directly with the state Supreme Court.
If the appellate courts side with the plaintiffs, he said it could impact other fencing projects around the state. Those projects, while used as a conservation tool, frustrate hunters who say it reduces hunting grounds.
“In any event, don’t give up,” Dombroski said to the plaintiffs and other supporters.
Following the ruling, PDF President Ralph Palikapu Dedman told Stephens Media Hawaii that he felt the ruling dealt too much with bureaucratic procedure, and not enough with the “merits of the case.”
The reserve totals 61,641 acres. The 383-page EA identified 153 endemic plant species and at least 32 rare plant species in the reserve and surrounding area.
The management plan also considers the area as a candidate for the reintroduction of the Hawaiian crow.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.