Shooting animals by helicopter on the Big Island is now illegal.
Mayor Billy Kenoi on Wednesday signed into law a largely symbolic bill that prohibits “any person to engage in the eradication of any animal for any reason while being transported by helicopter, airplane, or any similar means.”
The bill was aimed at the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife, which practices the shooting of feral ungulates by helicopter on state lands as a form of population control.
County Council members unanimously approved the bill in June, declaring DLNR’s practice to be barbaric and wasteful.
But DLNR is likely to continue the practice anyway, as it is not bound by county law.
Asked for comment, the DLNR sent Stephens Media a copy of the testimony that was submitted on June 5 to the County Council. In it, director and Chairman William Aila said DLNR conducts aerial shooting of sheep and goats under a stipulated federal court order.
“Respectfully, the county has no authority to override the federal court order, which is based on federal law, to ban or interfere with the state of Hawaii in performing those duties,” Aila said. “The department will continue to exercise its duties to protect threatened and endangered species, watersheds, and natural resources as needed to address national, state and county interests.”
Deputy Attorney General Donna H. Kalama agreed with DLNR, submitting written testimony that the bill is unnecessary because state law already prohibits aerial hunting by the public.
“The county has no authority to ban or otherwise interfere with the state of Hawaii’s activities,” Kalama wrote to the council. “On functions of statewide interest and concern, the general rule is that the counties cannot thwart the state from performing its duties.”
Hawaii County maintains it has the right to pass the ban, regardless of whether it can be enforced, on the principle of home rule.
Mayor Billy Kenoi could not be reached for comment, but Managing Director Bill Takaba confirmed that Kenoi had signed the bill.
The law declares that aerial shooting “is in conflict with the cultural and traditional values of the people of Hawaii County” and “creates unnecessary risk to human life, while also disturbing endangered flora and fauna” such as the palila bird.
Many hunters also testified in favor of the aerial ban, although at least one environmentalist opposed it on the grounds that aerial shooting helps with invasive species control.
In place of aerial shooting, the law encourages other methods that “take into account the will of the people.”
Finally, the law encourages the state to “increase public access to the areas of Hawaii Island that will allow hunters and gatherers the opportunity to provide subsistence to the families of Hawaii Island.”
Email Peter Sur at firstname.lastname@example.org.