By Larissa Ishikawa,
In recent news, two men by the names of Jeffrey Grundhauser (from Maui) and Daniel Rocha (from the Big Island) were found guilty of illegally exchanging 14 mouflon sheep from the Big Island for $1,000 along with four axis deer from Maui. (“Axis deer possession,” 2012) This exchange not only violated the federal Lacey Act, but was the first known introduction of axis deer to the Big Island.
Back in April 2011, axis deer were confirmed to inhabit the Big Island via sightings and credible photographic evidence taken by local ranchers. Since then, DLNR staff and partners at the Big Island Invasive Species Committee have been working to eliminate the deer from the island. But it is unclear as to how many of these deer actually exist or how their population is being controlled.
Nevertheless, the islands of Maui and Molokai serve as obvious examples as to how axis deer can cause severe damage to local agriculture and forest resources. According to environmentalists, they’ve increased erosion and sedimentation that contribute to the damage of coral reefs and near shore fisheries. Maui Agricultural Specialists estimated deer damage to Maui Nui farms, ranches and resorts exceeded $2 million over a two-year period, with an additional $1 million spent to remove or exclude deer from those locations. Another source also mentions that the deer can cause automobile collisions and deer feces left behind on farmlands can make remaining crops un-sellable by federal regulations. (“Axis deer possession,” 2012)
On June 21, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed Senate Bill 3001. The Hawaii State Legislature website states that:
“This measure prohibits the intentional possession and inter-island transportation or release of wild or feral deer. As the introduction of non-native species to the State poses a negative effect on Hawaii’s environment and indigenous species in a variety of ways, SB 3001 aims to provide a deterrent to the purposeful spread of wild or feral deer within the State and establishes penalties for the intentional possession or inter-island transportation or release of wild or feral deer.” (“Governor signs measure,” 2012)
It was Senator Gilbert Kahele who introduced this bill. “That was one of my key legislations—to prevent the axis deer from establishing itself on the big island,” said Kahele. It’s creating a lot of problems on Maui now. I know that some hunters, friends of mine, were not happy about it but it’s an issue that goes beyond hunting because for some people it’s a livelihood—they own farms, nurseries, coffee growers in Kona and Ka’u. And I’ve talked to legislatures on Maui, from the Mayor to representatives, Senator–they all know what kind of problem it has been.” Kahele went on to say that, “Also, there’s diseases like Tuberculosis on Molokai where the cattle needed to be killed [because of the deer]. So you don’t want that to happen on this island [Big Island]. That would devastate our ranchers,” said Kahele, enthusiastically.
“It was brought here illegally and if we had gone through the bureaucratic system, we’d still be talking about it. So I introduced the bill, the governor eventually signed it and people [law offenders] are going to have to pay this huge restitution—to send a clear message that they can’t do that,” said Kahele.
In fact, with this law in place, it assures that there will be mandatory fines of no less than $10,000, payment of costs to eradicate the deer, and possible imprisonment. It is stated that fines collected for convictions under this law may also be used to manage or control populations of introduced wildlife and mitigate any damages caused.
However, many Big Island hunters and wildlife enthusiasts would rather see the deer thrive in their new home, which would create new game as well as a new food source. After speaking to a few of them, it seems that many still do not see the harm in letting the deer populate on the island. Many also deny that there would be any spread of diseases such as the suspected lime disease or tuberculosis these animals are known to carry. “These animals were brought here as a gift to Kamehameha back in the day as a gesture of appreciation and a food source for his people. It is really bothersome to know that they [DLNR] are just killing these deer off like rats,” said Travis Figueira, one of the local protesters from the hunting community. He also claims that he and many other hunters are under the impression that these deer are being eradicated “inhumanely.” There are many like Figueira who are rooting for the deer to populate faster than the time it’ll take DLNR to control the situation. It is not a surprise that these people have a lot of resentment towards the people behind the new SB 3001 law, including Senator Kahele.
Successful elimination of the deer from the Hawaii Island is expected to require a considerable investment of public resources. The department has notified hunters and landowners that any assistance they can provide is appreciated. And whether people want to share the Big Island with these creatures or not, one thing is clear: anyone else who attempts to provide access for these axis deer to the Big Island, will not go unpunished.
SB 3001- http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=3001
Senator Kahele- http://senatorkahele.com/
Governor signs measure to prevent the spread of axis deer. (2012, June 21). Retrieved from http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/memberpage.aspx?member=kahele
Hunters encouraged to help control axis deer. (2012, October 28). Retrieved from http://www.hawaii247.com/2012/10/28/hunters-encouraged-to-help-control-axis-deer/
Axis deer possession now illegal in hawaii. (2012, June 21). Retrieved from http://www.bigislandvideonews.com/2012/06/21/axis-deer-possession-now-illegal-in-hawaii/