Sunday, February 9, 2003

Maui works on policy
to get handle on
deer population

By Bruce Dunford
Associated Press

While President Bush frets over the "axis of evil" on the world stage, Maui's ranchers, farmers and environmentalists are contending with their own axis of evil -- thousands of axis deer.

State of Hawaii They are asking lawmakers for $50,000 to develop a master plan to control the exploding deer populations, especially on Maui.

Tony Durso, resource manager for Ulupalakua Ranch, said the idea is to come up with a management policy acceptable to everyone concerned, from ranchers and farmers to conservationists, hunters and animal rights activists.

"We can hopefully meet all the needs of the various groups and set down a plan for a general policy for the various areas," he said.

The plan could range from using fences to protect crops, native plants and watershed areas to hunting, which would control or eliminate all the deer in a certain area, Durso said.

Durso, the Maui County Farm Bureau's representative on the Maui Axis Deer Task Force founded in 1996, said with the state's tight financial situation he's not optimistic the money will get final approval this year.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources confirmed that spending $50,000 to plan a deer management program is not an administration budget priority.

The first axis deer, or Indian spotted deer, were brought to Molokai in 1868 as a gift to Hawaii's king from the government of Hong Kong.

The axis deer is considered among the most beautiful of the deer species, with a reddish-brown coat, irregular rows of white spots, a dark stripe running along its back and chest and a white throat.

"The crop, fence and automobile damage is estimated not in tens of thousands of dollars, but in the hundreds of thousands," Durso told lawmakers at a hearing last month.

"It is critical that effective strategies be planned and put in place now rather than after the problem has become even greater than it already is," he said.

Jerry Simpson, who grows sweet corn on his small Kula farm, told of his troubles with the deer that three years ago cost him $20,000.

During a very dry 2000, the two herds of about 20 to 25 deer each moved onto his farm at night and ate all the younger corn plants and returned to eat the new shoots when he tried to replant, Simpson said.

"I fear the deer will return to the farm fields during the next dry period," he said. "The state brought the deer to Maui and now they have gotten out of control."

Jeffrey Mikulina, director of the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club, supported a control plan.

"In the case of axis deer, an ounce of prevention is worth many tons of cure," he said.

Dept. of Land & Natural Resources

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