Fence proposal alarms Kaua'i hunters
|||Map: Proposed fence line|
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau
LIHU'E, Kaua'i Some Kaua'i hunters say a proposed 550-acre wild-land fencing program is exactly what they feared when federal officials proposed establishing vast areas of critical habitat for endangered plants on the island.
Jan TenBruggencate The Honolulu Advertiser
"These guys are making enclosures and then closing their eyes and hoping for the best," said Bill DeCosta.
Jan TenBruggencate The Honolulu Advertiser
The state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, using mostly federal money, is proposing a 3.7-mile fence at the western end of the Ku'ia Natural Area Reserve, a rugged area of hills and valleys between Nu'alolo Ridge and Miloli'i Ridge.
The land was designated earlier this year as part of the island's 52,549 acres of critical habitat for endangered plants. At a heated public hearing last year, Elton Ushio of the Kaua'i Hunting Association predicted that critical habitat designation would lead to hunters being fenced out of their best hunting areas.
DeCosta says that the Ku'ia proposal is doing just that.
David Henkin, a lawyer for the environmental group Earthjustice, said there are larger conservation interests, not just critical habitat designation, that justify the fencing. "This area is a natural area reserve that is unique and should be protected," he said.
Henkin led Earthjustice's successful court battle to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act by establishing critical habitat to protect 255 Hawaiian endangered species.
"Ku'ia Natural Area Reserve contains one of the best examples of mesic forest remaining in the Hawaiian Islands and is federally designated as critical habitat for threatened and endangered plants," according to a state Department of Land and Natural Resources statement. Mesic is the type of forest in the middle rainfall range between rain forest and dryland forest.
The DLNR statement said the purpose of the fencing is to protect the region from pigs, goats and deer, which damage native forests through browsing, trampling plants, promoting erosion and helping weeds spread.
Galen Kawakami, a Kaua'i natural area reserve forester, said that in discussions with the Fish and Wildlife Service, state forestry officials proposed using the Ku'ia site to plant seedlings of rare plants found in other hunting areas as an alternative to fencing more popular hunting areas.
DeCosta, a member of the Kaua'i Hunting Association, said a huge fence like the one proposed is probably unmanageable and could end up ensnaring deer, goats and pigs, leading to extended and painful suffering.
"They should have small fenced areas maybe 10 or 20 acres that they can manage. Nobody's going to be walking all around this fence to check on it," he said.
He said the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife seems to have conflicting views. On one hand, it has closed hunting seasons to increase game-animal numbers in regions that include rare plants. On the other hand, it is proposing fencing to reduce game-animal numbers in the same areas.
Henkin said the agency's conflicting mandate to protect forests and also provide hunting opportunities creates serious problems.
"There is no justification of closed seasons or bag limits. Hunters should be allowed to take the animals home to their families," Henkin said, although he believes that in the most critical native forest areas, hunting by itself does not replace a good fencing policy.
DeCosta said that until the state has the money to actively manage fenced areas, leaving enough animals in a region to keep weeds under control is a better way to protect the forest than just putting a fence around it.
"These guys are making enclosures and then closing their eyes and hoping for the best," he said.
He added that "hunting is a great way to manage habitat." More hunting with fewer restrictions would keep animal populations down and reduce their effect on the native forest, he said.
Retaining hunting in the area also would help the human population, he said.
"A lot of us subsidize our income with wild meat, and we share with our neighbors," DeCosta said.
"Before, we had less game wardens, open seasons for hunting and no bag limit. Now, we have seasons, bag limits and more game wardens. It doesn't make sense."
Kawakami said the state's experience in areas with open hunting is that hunters stop hunting in areas as their success rates go down, leaving a certain number of animals in the region to continue damaging rare forest species.
Reach Jan TenBruggencate at firstname.lastname@example.org or (808) 245-3074.