There are conflicting reports over whether the Kohala Watershed Partnership is using aerial hunting during its current feral goat eradication efforts. However, the partnership, which is helping to restore native forests in the watershed above Pelekane Bay, denies using such a method.
Starting at 7 a.m. Monday, Cleon Bailey and Tony Sylvester, members of the county’s Game Management Advisory Commission, said they received several complaints from residents who witnessed a helicopter flying low over their homes to private ranch land on the north side of Kawaihae Road in Waimea. Following the appearance of the helicopter, they also heard rapid gun fire.
Some residents witnessed the helicopter dropping two men wearing orange hunting vests and armed with guns to various locations, where they shot goats and apparently left them to rot. Others reported seeing the same men allegedly shooting goats from inside the helicopter. The latter is illegal, Bailey said.
Federal and state laws prohibit hunting from airplanes or helicopters, unless the hunters have permits, which are typically reserved for government entities. State law makes aerial hunting a misdemeanor. In Hawaii County, there’s a law, established last year, 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.”
No one could provide photographic or video evidence clearly showing illegal activity taking place Monday.
Bailey, who lives in the nearby Ouli subdivision, heard the helicopter, which he claims is the same one he saw twice last week in the same area, and immediately went to investigate the situation Monday. Bailey said he saw two men wearing orange vests leaning out of the helicopter, which hovered over an area for a short time before moving to another place, but he did not hear any shooting.
However, his neighbors, as well as residents and businesses he visited along Kawaihae Road, did report hearing a helicopter, followed by the sound of “rapid gun firing.” Most were upset they were not notified prior to the hunting beginning. Many described the experience as disturbing, upsetting and inhumane, Bailey said.
Along with making sure the partnership is abiding by the law, Bailey said the game commissioners and residents feel there should be more transparency about what’s going on and provide advance notice to those who may be affected. Sylvester also wanted to know who authorized the hunting and said there should be a meat recovery program available to interested residents.
Melora Purell, the partnership’s coordinator, apologized for the disconcerting sounds and alarm the goat eradication effort may have caused some residents. She, too, received concerned phone calls about the hunting, which was about a half-mile from the nearest residences. The crew leader has suggested going to the affected neighborhoods and updating residents, something Purell said the partnership is willing to do.
Purell said no aerial hunting has occurred and no approval for the hunting is needed because it’s on private ranch land. Roger Imoto, Division of Forestry and Wildlife administrator for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, could not be reached for comment as of press time.
Purell said the helicopter used Monday was conducting a population assessment of the feral goats in the watershed, as well as transporting the partnership’s crew to areas where they were dropped off and picked up again after shooting the goats. The crew is after approximately 60 goats that got through fencing surrounding the watershed, she added.
Asked about reports of a helicopter in the area last week, Purell said it was not associated with the partnership’s effort and could have been a tour company.
Besides building and maintaining the fence around the watershed, Purell said the partnership has been removing goats from the area over the past three years.
She claimed the community has been largely supportive of the effort, recognizing how destructive these browsers are to the vegetation. By removing the goats, this allows the vegetation to recover and decreases the amount of bare soil on the watershed. If vegetation is not restored, infrequent, short-lived heavy rains can flush sediment from the Kohala Mountain slopes into the ocean, wrecking havoc on Pelekane Bay, she said.
In the past, at various community meetings, Purell said she has offered residents access to the goat carcasses, but no one has ever expressed interest in the goat meat. She said her offer still stands. Those interested must to willing to pick up the meat and should contact her directly at 333-0976.
For more information about the partnership and its efforts, visit kohalawatershed.org.