COURTESY OF U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Feral pigs knock over hapuu (tree ferns) and feed on the starchy cores, making hollows that fill with nutrient-rich water. These hollows often contain high concentrations of mosquito larvae. Jacqueline Mills, top, a U.S. Geological Survey volunteer, checks out the damage.
Fenced-in game areas might be the only way to save Hawaii's native flora and fauna from introduced species
HAWAII residents are always surprised to learn how small the "user group" is for public hunting. In 2005 the state sold just 8,292 hunting licenses. That's less than of 1 percent of residents. There also are unlicensed hunters, and family and friends who share the meat. But the land damaged by animal activity is enormous -- everywhere pigs, goats, sheep and deer can wander. The land area of the main Hawaiian islands is about 6,300 square miles -- too much for public hunting to take care of.
At the public information meeting on July 19 about an upcoming Manoa "urban hunt," it was pointed out that the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Forestry and Wildlife was culling pigs in Manoa in 2002, in '04, '05, and they're back in '06. A Palolo man asked, "When the hunt starts in Manoa, will the pigs come over to Palolo? We already have a pig problem." The response was, "Yes, they'll move into Nuuanu and Palolo." So residents asked about the long-term plan. The "E" word was even raised: "Have you considered eradication?"
Those who have struggled with the game animal problem for decades get nervous when the "E" word (that which must not be named) comes up, because it's a sure-fire way to set off a lot of unproductive shrieking. The value of hunting is broadly recognized in Hawaii; anyone who is worried about statewide eradication of all game animals can relax.
Back to the Manoa meeting. DOFAW's response to the eradication question was, "It's not possible." (Maybe not, but technology's on our side.) And a long-term control plan? "We don't have one."
COURTESY OF U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
A Hawaiian amakihi, above, is infected with avian pox, a virus carried by mosquitoes.
I appreciate the honesty of that answer. No doublespeak. But how is it possible that after more than 100 years of scientists, land managers, homeowners and farmers reporting widespread animal damage, there has been no sustained effort by state land and game managers to do something about it?
What Hawaii doesn't have that other places do is a strategic management plan for ungulates (hoofed animals). Such a plan would (a) allow enhancement of game management areas (GMAs) to ensure that hunters have good access and availability of animals, and (b) allow effective control of animals outside the GMAs to protect public assets and private property.
The Conservation Council for Hawaii (www.conservehi.org) and others propose that long-term success will require a shift from the present model of trying to fence animals out of thousands of places (including people's yards) to one of limiting the animals' range to the GMAs with barrier fences. Without fences there will be a never-ending, astronomically expensive battle to keep animals from causing islandwide degradation, as they are doing now. This is not a new idea. A number of states already limit feral pigs and other introduced animals to fenced GMAs.
The best land quality over the largest area would be achieved by starting at the summits, then expanding fences down to the GMAs. Fencing and control also would move mauka from urban areas until the range of game animals was limited to the intended GMAs. Expensive? Oh, yeah. But hey, Oahu's H-3 freeway cost $1.3 billion. If we are determined to protect the islands from animal damage, it will get done. Hawaii's high concentration of endangered species and rare ecosystems makes it an excellent candidate for outside funding.
Defenders of wildlife
Given that everyone benefits from such a plan -- both hunters and the 1.3 million people who depend on healthy watersheds, reefs and recreational areas -- why hasn't this model been adopted already? Unfortunately, whenever even small animal control projects are attempted, a few dozen people who like things just as they are trot out a gaggle of tired old arguments in hopes that people will get so sick of the controversy that nothing will get done. In the past this strategy has been effective. Some of the arguments against control:
» Pigs in ancient Hawaiian culture. An animal's importance to a society deserves our respect. But how does that tie in with letting important resources be destroyed? Writings on this topic can be found at www.rarehawaii.org.
» Wasted meat. The truth is that most of Hawaii's "game animals" will never grace anyone's table. If I hear one more person protest against shooting or snaring destructive animals because it "wastes meat," I'm going to shriek unproductively. Right now, most of the meat is worse than wasted -- it's walking around digging up the forest, trampling and destroying public resources, year after year.
Cost comparison shows that removing animal carcasses by helicopter from remote areas to distribute to people is far more expensive than buying the same amount of prime meat at the supermarket. Some game animals are successfully hunted and eaten, and that's great. But many more are degrading public lands and killing rare native plants and birds.
» Animal cruelty. At the Manoa meeting, Wayne Johnson of Animal Rights Hawaii invoked "the children" and said, "Thou shalt not kill." His colleague Cathy Goeggel decried the Manoa hunt (and coqui frog control) as cruel and futile. I have two points: (1) The children deserve clean water and the heritage of Hawaii's rare ecosystems. They do not deserve what's up on Tantalus now: no understory, tree roots exposed, soil rushing downhill with every rain, water polluted with leptospirosis, no native birds to be found. (2) People who abuse pets and livestock are despicable. But animals kill other animals and so do people. Control is a necessity and methods are getting better.
I don't understand why some animal rights advocates say it is cruel to eliminate a population of feral cats, but it's not cruel for the cats, brought here by humans, to rip native birds limb from limb. Why is it cruel to protect native Hawaiian creatures from marauding pigs and the pests they spread across the landscape?
» DOFAW's dual mandate. It's true that Hawaii statutes require DOFAW to both provide hunting opportunities and to protect native species and other natural resources. However, there's nothing in the statutes that says game animals should have free run of the entire state.
» No money, no staff. DLNR is grossly underfunded. What is more important to our survival and well-being than the land under our feet and our aquatic resources? I wish some economics-minded folk would research the effect on the state's economy of funding both DLNR and the Department of Agriculture at a level that would allow a scaled-up environmental work force, which would provide a variety of jobs at the full range of skill levels.
My own feeling about game mismanagement, based on years of watching our government in action, is that lack of cooperation both inside and outside the DLNR, combined with the frustration of constant battles over the red herrings listed above, has been a bigger obstacle than the cost. Hunting enthusiasts in high places likely have had something to do with the lack of a control plan as well.
COURTESY U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
A hapuu (tree fern) has been knocked over and dined upon by feral pigs. The pigs' assault on the hapuu creates hollows where water gathers, attracting mosquitoes.
Hunters take a stand
Public hunting is the first line of defense for some areas. Right now, hunters are locked out of places that would benefit from more hunting; better access is needed. However, there is a limit to how much public hunting can do for very large, unfenced areas.
At a workshop on ungulate control at the recent Hawaii Conservation Conference, one hunter said, in effect, "If you're counting on us to control animals in remote areas, it's not going to happen." Other young hunters said they support fencing to protect the land, and said they've lost friends for taking that position. These guys have guts and deserve our respect. I hope there will be more job opportunities for them, too. There's plenty of work to be done.
Out of control
Feral pigs in Hawaii breed year-round, often producing litters of five or more. Real control requires more than hunting. It takes every method available, applied with consistent effort, to be successful. For information on ungulate control, see the 2005 position paper from the Hawaii Conservation Alliance (which includes DOFAW, Bishop Museum, U.S. Department of Agriculture and others); the URL is at the end of this article.
I know quite a few DOFAW folks, and I can tell you they would love to make a comprehensive control plan if there was any hope of implementing it.
A 2005 legislative resolution (SCR 56/HCR 98) requires DLNR to "prepare a plan to reduce the statewide pig population." So at least a pig control plan will be forthcoming. But will it be implemented? Will taxpayers and voters, hunters and nonhunters, support pig control efforts?
Vote for conservation
If every legislator heard this message from a dozen constituents, it would have an impact: We can have both hunting and healthy watersheds, but not without a comprehensive control plan, a commitment to implementation and enforcement.
Enforcement counts because right now there is very little, and chaos reigns. Unlicensed hunting is rampant. People trap animals and release them elsewhere, stocking their own hunting spots on public land, sometimes in pristine areas. A few people have cut fences, uprooted endangered plants and shouted down speakers at public meetings because they don't want any form of animal control.
We're all in this together. The beginning is formalizing a plan so funding can be sought for long-term solutions. Visit www.conservehi.org for more ways to contribute to control efforts.
Future in our hands
A commitment to reversing the long-term trend of land degradation by introduced game animals is needed now, from individual residents, the Lingle administration, the Legislature and the DLNR staff on every island.
We don't need vast herds of deer on Maui or sheep on Mauna Kea, but control has been hamstrung by a few diehards who just have to have them. How about the coqui frog on the Big Island? A couple of people who just love the coqui frog were instrumental in slowing the control response, and look at that mess now.
So think about game animals when you turn on the tap, when you see a picture of a silversword, when you see muddy water pouring onto the reef. This problem is solvable but only with long-term, focused effort. The future could go either way. Watershed restoration, native species recovery, better control over invasive species and disease ... or game animals everywhere.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Ikagawa has a Bachelor of Science degree in botany from the University of Hawaii. After working in the state's endangered-plant protection program, she became concerned about damage by introduced game animals. Five years ago she started a Web site, www.rarehawaii.org, to raise awareness of Hawaii's game animal problem. She works for the Oahu Invasive Species Committee and is editor of the Conservation Council for Hawaii newsletter.