Make hunting pono -- save Hawaii’s native creatures
Pono: moral, fitting, proper, righteous, virtuous, fair, beneficial, correct
The problem with hunting in Hawaii is that too many game animals are in the wrong places. Pigs, goats, sheep and deer are introduced, invasive species that are controlled around the world as pests. They destroy private property, crops, and native plants and animals; spread invasive weeds and disease; and increase the erosion that leads to reef siltation, mudslides and rockfalls. This goes on 24/7, 365 days a year.
In Hawaii, where game animals also kill endangered species, they are allowed to stay only because of hunting. I do not say this to anger anyone -- it is simply a fact we have to deal with. So far we have dealt with it very badly.
There are important projects under way to control game animals to protect native species and watersheds. Unfortunately, hunters and even some game managers have come to feel that their sport is being attacked whenever animal control is attempted anywhere. A side effect of protecting natural areas is that some people might lose a favorite hunting spot. It can't be helped. But there are huge expanses of land where native species have long since vanished, where game animals can be more of a resource than a problem. There are also many places on every island where game animals should never have been allowed, and it is high time they were removed.
Much is made of the upside of hunting -- the fun, the food, the exercise. There are other things we don't hear so much about:
Criminal acts like cutting fences, pulling up endangered plants and releasing game animals in places where they didn't exist before. Game managers undermining their own agency's efforts to adopt conservation-oriented management. Abuse and neglect of hunting dogs, dogs killed or maimed by game animals, dogs left behind when they don't return soon enough. Game animals stabbed repeatedly by unskilled or brutal hunters. Pets injured or killed by hunting dogs that are off the leash near residential areas and popular hiking trails. Violent and selfish behavior from hunters, like threatening public officials and conservation workers, and shouting down speakers at public meetings so no one else's views are heard.
Some hunters are working to control game animals and protect native ecosystems, using their skills to protect rare and irreplaceable things. Their contribution to conservation is huge, because these guys know their quarry -- how the animals move, where they go, how to catch them.
It is those few who refuse to give anything up who slow everyone else down. They bring death to endangered birds and traditionally important native plants. The irony is that by insisting they have the right to continue using native forests for hunting, they cause those places to die.
Molokai's beautiful Kamakou Preserve is one recent example. The Nature Conservancy is doing the people a tremendous service by removing invasive plants and animals from Kamakou. Like Kaho'olawe and great swaths of the other main islands, much of Molokai has been converted to invasive weeds or just stripped to bare soil by hoofed animals. The Nature Conservancy describes the preserve perfectly at its Web site: "The rain forest of Kamakou is like no other forest on the planet. It is an important source of water for Molokai and is a magnificent natural treasure."
Some hunters oppose the game animal control initiative. If they were to prevail, victory would go to the weeds and dirt, not the people.
Another example is the Natural Area Reserves. The NAR system was established in 1970 to "preserve in perpetuity specific land and water areas which support communities, as relatively unmodified as possible, of the native flora and fauna, as well as geological sites, of Hawaii." Thirty-seven years later, hunters are still fighting to keep game animals in NARs for their personal benefit.
Using hunting as justification to block protection of Hawaii's land, water and native life forms is not pono.
The time to face the island-devouring problem of free-roaming game mammals is now. Invasive animals and plants are taking away our forests and our options.
We need to recognize that government is us. The state's game management agency, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, is us, not them. We obviously need to inspire our DOFAW game managers to join the 21st century and design a modern program that works in cooperation with conservation and limits game to appropriate areas. Hunting is a sport, not a necessity, and we need to rein in its astronomical cost.
Endangered species recovery plans, DOFAW's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, and greater protection for the Natural Area Reserves -- all require game animal control and public support to be more than paper gathering dust on a shelf.
Pupukahi i holomua. We must unite to move forward.
Mary Ikagawa has worked in the state's endangered-plant
protection program and now is a graduate student in the Botany
Department at the University of Hawaii.