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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 3, 2004

Land stewards losing ground

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kanekoa Kukea-Shultz gets upset when he talks about what's happening around the reef where he's been swimming all his life.

Kanekoa Kukea-Shultz, a graduate student in botany who has done reef assessments, says he often sees evidence of banned activities at Three Tables beach on O'ahu's North Shore, part of the Pupkea Marine Life Conservation District.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Three Tables, the small beach between Waimea Bay and Shark's Cove on O'ahu's North Shore, is designated as a state marine conservation district, meaning you can look, but don't fish.

That doesn't stop poachers from spear-fishing, or tourists from walking all over the reefs at low tide, Kukea-Shultz said.

The 26-year-old graduate student has seen that behavior repeated throughout the Islands.

"I dove in the natural area reserves, and all you see anywhere is ulua hooks," said Kukea-Shultz, who has done reef assessments around the state as part of his master's degree in botany at the University of Hawai'i.

He and other advocates for Hawai'i's environment are worried the state is not doing enough to protect its shorelines, wildlife, plants and other natural assets.

Hawai'i is home to more endangered species then any other state. Nearly half of the 114 species that became extinct in the first 20 years of the federal Endangered Species Act were in Hawai'i, according to a new report by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Yet, the state has only 99 conservation enforcement officers to watch over 2 million acres of conservation land, 410,000 acres of coral reef, 3 million acres of ocean waters under state jurisdiction and other resources.

Environmental enforcement

The Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, the enforcement arm of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, issued 2,108 citations in fiscal year 2002-2003. Among them:

• 214 aquatic citations, including fishing violations, dumping in water and illegal taking of coral.

• 1,176 boating citations, including boating while drunk, illegal maneuvering, lack of safety gear and car break-ins in harbor parking lots.

• 163 forestry citations, including illegally harvesting native plants and hiking or hunting in prohibited areas.

• 65 land citations, including littering, off-roading in cars and destruction of plants and animals.

• 88 state parks citations, including trash burning and criminal activity.

Source: Department of Land and Natural Resources

"I can't think of anybody who has the same kind of job responsibilities that we have statewide, from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the ocean," said Gary Moniz, enforcement chief of the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, known as DOCARE. The agency is part of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Tasked with responsibilities from drug enforcement to fishing regulations, DOCARE officers are stretched thin and respond to complaints in a reactive manner, instead of having the time to do preventive programs and patrols, state officials say.

State environmental activists such as the Sierra Club and Hawai'i Audubon Society say more protection is needed, because fish species are being depleted, bird species' nesting grounds are being eradicated, native plants are being harvested illegally and tourist activities can harm endangered species.

Environmental experts point to Ka'ena Point as a prime example. It is a wildlife reserve, but that doesn't stop off-roaders from driving their cars and dirt bikes into the brush, causing erosion and crushing bird nesting areas, said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawai'i chapter.

"This has been a problem for years. The lack of having (DOCARE) bodies out in the field, it is a real clear impact out at Ka'ena Point," Mikulina said. "The lack of enforcement clearly impacts the environment negatively."

Randy Kennedy, statewide natural area reserve manager, said the state tried to erect blockades to keep off-roaders on marked roads. He said the natural area reserve that is home to most of the endangered plant and animal species is somewhat protected because it is flanked by state park land on both the Wai'anae and Mokule'ia sides.

Wesley Mundy ran a safety inspection at the Kane'ohe Bay sandbar Friday. State Land and Natural Resources enforcement officials look out for violations from fishing to car break-ins to boating while drunk.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It is a problem that needs to be addressed," said Kennedy, who has managed the reserves for six years. "(People) are supposed to stay on prescribed roads. There is a problem there. It is prohibited to destroy the vegetation and the dunes. Boulders are up — some are still in place, but people have made a concerted effort to move them."

On any given day, DOCARE officers may be hiking the 'Aiea Loop Trail looking for illegal hunters, patrolling state parks for public drinkers, staking out forest reserves for koa poachers or harvesting and destroying illegal patches of marijuana.

Moniz called the division's enforcement practices cyclical. DOCARE tries to target chronic issues such as the taking of natural resources, violations of recreational boating laws and illegal hunting and fishing, he said. "It just depends where you put the manpower and where you apply the pressure."

Moniz said DLNR officials do not have a target number of officers required in the field, as that would depend on an analysis of factors such as types of issues and resources in each area.

But DOCARE has gained officers since 2001, when it employed 83 full time.

With a budget of $6,841,569 for the fiscal year that ends June 30, and the area it must cover, "we will never have enough people to do the job everyone wants," said DLNR Deputy Director Ernest Lau. "We have to be creative with our practices. There are only so many resources in the state. We are doing the best we can. "

Kukea-Shultz worries that his 6-month-old son Kahikina will not be able to enjoy nature the way he does. He is frustrated with DOCARE, but believes the department is doing the best it can.

"The regulations are good, but if you don't have the people to enforce it, it's useless," he said. "It's a waste of time."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8110.