Tuesday, August 28, 2001

They're cute, but axis deer, grazing here on the
slopes of Haleakala, have become a serious
threat to the environment and economy of Maui..

Deer population
boom threatens
Maui forests, farms

The wild, wide-ranging
herds also are blamed in
36 road collisions

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> The axis deer population has grown out of control on Maui and is damaging native forests and farm crops, an official with the Nature Conservancy said.

Eric Nishibayashi, a conservancy wildlife biologist, estimated the numbers will reach about 9,000 deer by the year 2003 and 20,000 by 2008, if left unchecked.

Cindy Lawrence, the Maui County Farm Bureau coordinator, said several growers have reported crop damage.

"It's a severe problem," said Lawrence.

A meeting sponsored by the Maui Axis Deer Group is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Kihei Community Center.

Introduced in 1960 under a legislative mandate to promote game hunting, the nine axis deer released on Maui have multiplied into herds that range mainly from Kula to Kanaio.

They also have been reported as far as Kaanapali and Kapalua in West Maui.

Drought conditions have pushed them into urban areas, including golf courses at South Maui resorts.

In an 18-month period between 1999 and 2000, at least 36 motor vehicle collisions with deer occurred on Maui roads.

Some residents fear the increasing presence of deer could lead to a fatal traffic accident.

"It's just a matter of time," said Jerry Simpson, a Kula farmer. "The state is going to have to do something, or they're going to find out they're going to have liability lawsuits in auto accidents."

Simpson, who lives along Naalae Road, said about 40 deer came last year to his farm at night and did about $20,000 in fence and corn crop damage.

The deer have also caused an estimated $35,000 to $55,000 in crop losses to Maui Pineapple Co., said John Brooks, its Haliimaile plantation field superintendent.

Brooks said besides eating the plant seedlings, the deer have broken fencing, allowing cattle to enter pineapple fields and destroy crops.

Steven Anderson, a wildlife biologist who has been studying the axis deer population on Maui, said he fears the impact of the deer on the watershed and the potential for water contamination through deer droppings.

Anderson said deer can carry a number of diseases, such as bovine tuberculosis and anthrax.

He said he is also worried about the potential for vehicular accidents once a road is developed across deer corridors between Upcountry Maui and Kihei.

Residents say more fencing and hunting will be needed to protect crops and forests.

Wilbert Yee, president of the 100-member Kaupo Wildlife Club, said his hunting group is developing a team of hunters willing to go onto a landowner's property to shoot the deer.

"There's really nothing to worry about if people take care of their areas," he said.

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