It’s a cattle call of a different color.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is renewing its call for hunters to participate in a lottery to help eradicate feral cattle from the Puu Oo area of the Hilo Restricted Watershed, near mile marker 22 of Saddle Road.
The deadline to sign up has been extended a week after a less-than-enthusiastic response from area hunters.
Hunters now have until Friday to sign up. Applications may be obtained at both the East and West Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife offices or online at hawaii.gov/dlnr/dofaw.
“DOFAW wanted to ensure there was fair and ample opportunity for hunters to participate in the hunt,” said DLNR spokeswoman Laura Stevens in an email response. “There was some difficulty with a web link to the application so we wanted to extend the deadline to ensure that it was made available for all.”
DLNR has been trying for years to eradicate feral cattle that hide under the trees and resist herding. Over the generations, the cattle have gotten smaller and “more rugged,” said Tony Sylvester, chairman of the Hawaii County Game Management Advisory Commission.
The game commission was approved as a charter amendment by county voters last year, after local hunters found themselves at odds with DLNR over the state agency’s airborne eradication efforts of sheep, pigs and goats on protected forest land on the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. DLNR officials have attended recent commission meetings, but the relationship remains tenuous.
“The morale of the hunting community is real low right now,” Sylvester said. “What we see isn’t any form of game management. It just grows until it becomes a problem, and then there is eradication.”
DLNR is trying to eradicate invasive species to protect and enhance the habitat of rare native plants and animals also living there.
“This special hunt was in the planning phase prior to the existence of the (game commission),” Stevens said. “It has not been formally raised with the GMAC, but there have been discussions with members of the hunting community about the hunt.”
Sylvester, who said he’s commenting as an individual and not as commission chairman, said many hunters such as himself don’t see cattle as a game animal. Sheep, goats and pigs, descendants of animals formerly belonging to Hawaiian royalty, are considered “heritage animals,” and have developed unique characteristics that make them valuable in genetic diversification, he said.
For example, descendants of Spanish sheep that have roamed lava fields for generations have developed longer legs to successfully navigate the uneven terrain, he said. Sylvester said some ancestors of the Hawaii sheep have become so rare in their native lands that they’ve become protected species at the same time Hawaii is trying to eradicate their descendants.
Hunters want to be able to continue their traditional hunting practices as a way to control overpopulation of the feral ungulates, rather than have them fenced off and herded and eradicated by government sharpshooters in helicopters. The hunters are being pushed to game areas on private ranches or Hawaiian lands, he said.
Puu Oo, at roughly 6,000-foot elevation, is best known to hikers who traverse the historic cattle route where ranchers once drove their cattle from the slopes of Mauna Kea down to the Keauhou Landing on the Puna coast. A variety of native birds flit through old-growth koa and native species growing in kipuka, the green oases amid the aa lava. Part of the region is now home to large tracts of rocky pastureland that has replaced the native forest in many areas.
Applications must consist of a minimum of five and maximum of 10 licensed hunters as a group. Each group will be allowed to take a maximum of two cattle, of either sex.
Getting to the cattle is a bit of a challenge, but packing the meat out after a successful hunt is no picnic either, Sylvester noted. He said he participated in a cattle hunt there more than 10 years ago.
“The meat is OK,” Sylvester said. “But you can only pack out so much meat. You wouldn’t want to waste it. You’re not going to kill an elk or moose and only take one leg.”
Special access will be granted to one hunter group per Saturday beginning Nov. 16 and running through the end of March. Hunters will be selected through a random lottery drawing to be held Oct. 30 at the East Hawaii DOFAW office at 19 E. Kawili St., in Hilo.