Eco-nomics a great idea trampled by game animals


POSTED: Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hear, hear for Rep. Cynthia Thielen's “;Eco-nomics: Environmentalism meets economics”; (”;Gathering Place,”; Feb. 6). It lacked only some key specifics about how we can protect our natural capital. One long-overdue step is to free the landscape of the deer, mouflon, feral cattle, sheep, goats and pigs that are destroying it. These animals would have been targeted for eradication long ago if not for hunting, yet only about one-half of 1 percent of residents buy hunting licenses. The impossibility of a game program based entirely on harmful invasive species has bled our finances and our natural resources for 50 years.

Researchers and public agencies (including the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Forestry and Wildlife, which runs the game program) churn out report after report about the devastating effects game mammals have on native species and the layered vegetation our watersheds rely on, yet the state's leadership remains AWOL on the issue.

Conservation funders increasingly look askance at a state whose policies protect invasive animals. Opportunities to revive tourism by showcasing Hawaii's spectacular native biodiversity are being literally trampled under thousands of hooves.

The farms we need to develop the local food supply face constant predation by game animals that the game program takes no responsibility for, from pigs that eat half the macadamia nut crop in Puna to game birds that raze lettuce fields in Kula. And some people tout game mammals “;in the mountains”; as food security for the islands! Crop and watershed damage aside, this is nonsense. Well-managed livestock operations can feed large numbers of people far more efficiently and safely. The animals in the mountains might actually act as a disease reservoir that threatens food security.

Thielen said, “;Our economic recovery depends also upon the health of our 'natural capital'; water, forests, soil and air”; and that “;our healthy Kau Forest Reserve on the Big Island can combat global warming.”; Indeed, if we start protecting our forest reserves, they will provide a wealth of economic and environmental services. But as the following excerpt from a 2009 National Audubon Society report indicates, the forest reserves face an uncertain future:

“;Non-native mammals are the most serious threat to the Kau forest and the birds it supports. Non-native ungulates, particularly feral cattle and pigs and mouflon sheep have destroyed much of the understory in some areas and prevented recruitment of trees. ... Feral pigs occur throughout the area and degrade habitat by rooting in the understory, spreading the seeds of invasive alien plants, and creating breeding sites for non-native mosquitoes that carry avian malaria and avian pox virus.”; (Report available at http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/)

This is just one report among hundreds that document Hawaii's shrinking future and the leading role played by game mammals. What does it take to get an organized response to this ecological crisis? Hunting is a major issue to a tiny percentage of residents and a minor issue with grave consequences for 1.3 million and their descendants. The problem is a sociopolitical one. Our inability to cope with controversy has cost our children dearly.

I suggest that the Legislature and Gov. Linda Lingle approve a task force to meet with DLNR chairwoman Laura Thielen and DOFAW managers to revisit DOFAW's programs and priorities in the light of the new millennium and our sustainability goals; address the outdated statutes and rules that protect invasive game mammal species; tally up the myriad costs resulting from all game species so the burden is clearly understood by all; and prepare an adaptive management and control strategy for game animals. Effective control will cost, but not doing it will cost infinitely more.

DLNR's enormous responsibilities need to be acknowledged in the budget-making process, and all departments and divisions need an accountability overhaul. As Thielen said, “;Sustainability is no longer a buzz word; it has become a necessary way of life.”; Yet without effective leadership, it will be just a buzz word. Good leaders are not paralyzed by fear of the unknowable. They push forward based on the best evidence, monitor the results and adapt as more information comes in. They fight for the resources they need to do the job.

As a first step, DLNR/DOFAW should stop regulating game mammals and let people hunt them freely. Right now, today. Poaching increases in times of economic recession. How many taxpayers want to fund enforcement of poaching laws that protect some of the planet's worst invasive species?


Mary Ikagawa has worked in the state's endangered-plant protection program and is a graduate student in botany at the University of Hawaii.