Ka‘u residents question forest fencing plans


Ka‘u residents and island hunters took the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to task earlier this year during meetings to discuss the proposed Ka‘u Forest Reserve Management Plan.

The state Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Quality Control signed off on the plan’s final environmental assessment this month, giving the plan a finding of no significant impact. The plan calls for fencing about 12,000 acres in the reserve’s upper, central portion. Full plan implementation, which includes measures to eventually reintroduce the Hawaiian crow in some areas, is expected to take about 15 years and cost roughly $10.4 million, the document said.

According to documents filed with the environmental assessment, meeting attendees questioned why DLNR spoke extensively with kupuna, who aren’t hunters, accused the department of introducing axis deer to Hawaii Island “to create jobs for themselves,” creating roads to bring in invasive species and destroying the forests. The comments were recorded at public meetings, but the names of the commenters were not included in the meeting summary provided by DLNR.

“DLNR should not come to Kaʻu,” one person said. “They should not touch other people’s places, and (thery) have no right to take subsistence food and resources from the people.”

People will manage the forests for free, or even better, one person suggested, take the money set aside for fencing 12,000 acres to isolate feral pigs in the reserve and pay hunters $100 per killed pig.

DLNR officials, in their response to the comments, defended their management policies, and said paying hunters is not an effective way to deal with the problems posed by invasive species.

“The Division (of Forestry and Wildlife) has found that in the most remote areas with native vegetation, hunters alone are simply not able to control ungulates to levels that prevent degradation to the forest,” the document said.

DOFAW officials insisted the plan will not keep people from hunting in the reserve.

“The Reserve Management Plan will not restrict public access or traditional and customary cultural practices in the reserve,” the document said. “The proposed portion of the reserve identified for fencing and ungulate removal will not be available for game mammal hunting once ungulates have been removed. Impacts to hunters will be mitigated by increasing access to large portions of the reserve still available for hunting and by involving hunters in ungulate removal activities.”

Officials claimed the project will increase access routes to the forest. Once people see the plan’s effectiveness, they will come around to support future, similar plans, officials said.

“Currently, the division is aware that there is a lack of support among many Ka‘u residents for fencing more than 12,000 acres and removing ungulates,” the document said. “If the proposed project proceeds as planned, the division believes that monitoring will demonstrate to the community the positive benefits to watershed and native species and minimal impacts to hunting. If this occurs, many residents may be more supportive of additional forest protection through fencing and ungulate removal, and the community will be fully consulted in the process.”

DOFAW dismissed the idea of fencing the full 61,000-acre reserve because doing so would cost roughly $20 million, far more than the division could afford.

People who mailed or emailed in comments tended to be more supportive of the fencing and other mitigation measures.

“I feel a fence would actually help to keep the pigs or game animals to the lower elevations and make it easier for the hunters,” Aileen Yeh wrote. “Pigs and animals have legs and can move themselves. Our valuable forests and watersheds cannot move, and are helpless in the paths of these animals. These hunters should have more respect for the forests, the native plants and the native ecosystems. The forests and the understory protect and filter the waters that we all use. They serve a good purpose.”

Yeh wrote that her father taught her to fish and hunt, and she was familiar with the hunting and ranching issues in the area.

Former Planning Director Chris Yuen said fencing has long been used in the area.

“The importance of fencing to protect watershed was known in the early 1900s, when it was first implemented in the Ka‘u Forest Reserve and remains valid today,” Yuen wrote. “The implementation of this plan is key to the future of Ka‘u’s forest and the well-being of the communities that live down slope from the forest.”