HILO — The U.S. Army announced Thursday that it has indefinitely suspended hunting at the Big Island’s Pohakuloa Training Area.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” said public affairs officer Bob McElroy. “We just have a lot of units coming in in the next several months. It’s the commander’s policy not to have hunting while we have soldiers and Marines on the ground training.”
McElroy explained that there wouldn’t be any formal large-scale exercises, such as the recent Rim of the Pacific Exercise, which began on June 29 and is known as the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise. Rather, soldiers will be training on the firing of individual weapons, including machine guns, heavy artillery and cannons.
“It’s training we can’t do on Oahu due to restrictions,” he said. “And for the public’s safety, as well as the soldiers’ safety, we can’t have hunters out there. Normally, when we do open for hunting, we have to shut down several training areas, but when we have lots of soldiers here, we can’t do that.”
PTA’s command team will monitor the training schedule and, if there is a lull in training, may open selected areas for bow hunting of mammals, according to a press release issued Thursday.
“We regret any inconvenience this may cause hunters and are grateful for their patience,” the release stated.
McElroy added that PTA would supply the media with additional information in the coming weeks, including schedules for planned convoys that could affect isle traffic along Saddle Road and other thoroughfares.
Currently, he said, a convoy of Army National Guard troops is working its way up to PTA from Hilo, from Wednesday through Saturday, and will be returning to Hilo in the next couple of weeks. Thereafter, he said, more troops will be traveling to PTA from Kawaihae, with further information pending.
While the Army is required to allow hunting on the property, according to its lease with the state, Hilo hunter Jason Imamura, 41, said Thursday afternoon that he understood the need for safety measures when the training area is under heavy use.
“Of course, we’d like to hunt in there,” he said, “But if the military gotta train, they gotta train. … We’ve gotta share the area.”
Imamura said he has been a regular bow hunter at PTA since 1989, and at one time he considered it the best in the state.
“I’ve hunted all the islands. As far as public land archery goes, PTA was the best place in the state by far. … The abundance of game, the accessibility to the area. … And it’s a good place to take the family and the kids,” he said.
Unfortunately, he said, the quality of hunting in the area has been declining over the last few years as the state has pursued a number of fencing and eradication projects.
Even so, said 41-year-old hunter and archery supplier Jeff Ochi, of JSO Enterprises, when PTA opts to close the area to hunters, that can affect his bottom line.
“This past two years it really hurt my small business,” he said. “I did inventory hoping hunting would be open, and these past two years, I’m keeping a lot of inventory because basically no place is open. This past season, it (PTA) was closed a majority of the time.”
PTA spokesman McElroy confirmed that the area has only been open to hunting on four weekends since March.
Ochi added that while he supports the military and understands the need for training, sometimes the hunting areas appear to be closed, even when no hunting is happening. And that just feels unfair, he explained, especially when taking younger and older hunters into account.
“That’s the first place I went hunting when I was younger,” he said. “It’s flat, and easier to walk there. It’s a good place to teach kids. And it’s easier for older people, too. My dad, he’s getting on in years, and has trouble walking, but we take him out there. … My dad was so frustrated this past year.”
For more information about hunting at PTA, visit garrison.hawaii.army.mil/pta/, or follow the Twitter feed at twitter.com/usagpohakuloa for updates.