Officers seek moreAs two Hawaii Island men await trial on charges they stole $104,000 worth of koa trees from state land, officials say they are pursuing leads in even larger tree-theft cases.
arrests in koa thefts
2 men face May trials for
allegedly stealing 37 trees last year
By Diana Leone
Authorities allege that Aaron S. Cypriano and Herbert De Costa Jr. stole 37 mature koa trees last year -- 31 from the Department of Land & Natural Resources' Hilo Forest Reserve and six more from another location.
Both men are charged with first-degree theft; De Costa also is charged with prohibited acts related to drug paraphernalia, a Circuit Court clerk said yesterday.
The trees were cut sometime prior to May. Grand jury indictments were filed against De Costa and Cypriano on Jan. 31; they pleaded not guilty in February arraignments. Both face a May 6 trial date.
Lenny Terlep, Division of Conservation and Enforcement branch chief, said the current case is the largest case of tree theft yet on the Big Island. He confirmed yesterday that additional cases are being investigated.
John Holley, a conservation officer who worked on this case, said theft of koa, prized for canoe-making and fine woodworking, has a particular sting.
"If you walk through the forest, you see a big hollow in the koa stand. You can even see it from the air," Holley said. "A koa stand is like a breath of fresh air. And when you see it cut down, it's like life has been taken."
No koa is harvested from the Hilo Forest Reserve, which is a watershed protection area.
"If you walk through the forest, you see a big hollow in the koa stand. You can even see it from the air. A koa stand is like a breath of fresh air. And when you see it cut down, it's like life has been taken." John Holley
Holley said he believes there is a pattern on the Big Island of people cutting koa for quick sale to feed a drug habit, in much the same way awa plants or hapuu ferns have been marketed in the past.
"They go to independent woodworkers in a pickup (truck) with a blue tarp and say, 'You want to buy this koa?'" Holley said. "They go buy ice, get high and go to next tree stand."
To patrol 1 million acres on the state's biggest island, the Department of Land & Natural Resources has an enforcement staff of 18, including ocean patrols.
"That's why we need the manpower for protection of natural resources," Holley said.
The conservation officers said they are coordinating with the Hawaii County Police Department on the cases.
State forestry experts were able to match the stumps of cut koa to some of the logs in De Costa and Cypriano's possession, Terlep said. Fifteen logs were recovered, he said.
"We don't encourage anyone to steal forest products, especially old koa stands," said Terlep. "We vigorously are going to investigate any information that leads to someone who is harvesting our koa."
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