COURTESY OF NATURE CONSERVANCY
Molokai hunters are upset that the Nature Conservancy has hired a New Zealand firm for preservation work. Here, a crew builds a fence at the Waikamoi Preserve on Maui.
Hunters hit conservancy for hiring a foreign firm
The Nature Conservancy has hired a New Zealand-based firm to help track and hunt wild pigs and goats on remote conservation land on Maui and Molokai in a pilot project aimed at preserving native forests.
But the Molokai Hunters Association, which has worked with the Conservancy for years to control animals that threaten native ecosystems, is denouncing the plan as an insult to local hunters. Its members planned to protest this morning outside Blaisdell Center, where a gun show is being held.
"The Nature Conservancy came to Molokai, and we greeted them as friends in the forest and then we became partners and worked together in the forest," said Walter Ritte, secretary of the Hunters Association. "Now they're becoming the dictators in the forest.
"This island is 10 miles wide and 30 miles long, and we've hunted from the time we were kids. We don't need somebody with a GPS to tell us where these animals are going."
Nature Conservancy of Hawaii officials said they simply hope to refine the group's techniques and learn from Prohunt Inc., which has a combination of expertise and equipment that cannot be matched locally. The company specializes in reaching elusive animals in difficult terrain using customized monitoring technology and helicopters.
"Preserving forests takes a giant effort and enormous amount of resources," said Evelyn Wight, senior communications manager for the conservancy. "We want to look at ways we can be more efficient and effective in protecting this little bit of forest that is left."
Hawaii has lost half of its native forests, and Molokai has just 15 percent of its native forest intact, according to the conservancy. Invasive weeds and non-native animals, particularly pigs and goats, threaten Hawaii's fragile ecosystems. Some forests have been reduced to barren land that erodes into the ocean and smothers reefs. The conservancy uses fences to keep destructive animals from pristine areas, and the project will assess their effectiveness.
Animal monitoring and hunting will begin soon in the conservancy's Waikamoi and Kapunakea preserves on Maui, Wight said. Animal movements also will be studied in the Kahakuloa Preserve in West Maui. On Kauai the research project will involve no hunting.
The Molokai project includes monitoring and hunting on private land including Kamakou Preserve and the upper portion of Pelekunu Valley. The conservancy also will hunt goats above the 1,500-foot elevation on the barren South Slope.
"We want to see Molokai's South Slope green again, Kamakou stream running year-round again, our reefs clear and filled with fish," said Suzanne Case, executive director of the conservancy.
Altogether the short-term projects are expected to stretch over six to eight months.
Ritte called on the conservancy to hold a public meeting to address the potential economic and social impacts of the project, and its effect on native Hawaiian gathering rights.
The conservancy held a public meeting in January with the Molokai Hunters Association that degenerated into shouting. Since then it has held 27 small-group meetings on Molokai, and others across the state. Yesterday it distributed statements from Molokai residents and Hawaiian cultural specialists supporting the project.
"The conservancy is working in areas where people don't do much hunting anyway. It's pretty remote," said Kanoho Helm, a Molokai fisherman and hunter. "You can't get everyone on your side, but if people know the facts, they will understand we need to protect our watershed."