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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Feral pigs draw legislator's wrath

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

A year-round hunting bill targets wild pigs, deemed "one of the most damaging invasive species" in the Islands.


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Concern about the increasing intrusion of feral pigs into residential areas has led to a proposal to declare open season on the animals and establish a bounty, over the objections of the state agency that promotes both hunting and protection of forest lands.

The threats posed by expanding pig populations include increased erosion, threats to native species, the spread of weeds and perhaps even increased flooding, said state Rep. Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa-University), who introduced HB2942, which calls for year-round hunting and an undetermined cash bounty for each pig killed.

Caldwell said that in his own district, pigs may have contributed to the devastation of the Oct. 30, 2004, flood that caused millions of dollars of damage in Manoa Valley. He said pigs have wiped out the undergrowth that normally slows runoff and soaks up rainwater.

"What's becoming clear is that the undergrowth in the back of the valley is getting really depleted. I went back there and it smelled like a pig sty," he said.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources opposes the bill. In testimony submitted to the House Water, Land and Ocean Resources committee on Friday, the agency said it has the authority on its own to remove seasons and bag limits, but there are reasons not to promote hunting in specific areas. The department supports meetings in communities with problems to develop solutions.

"Declaring wide-open seasons and methods would conflict with many current uses such as hiking, gathering forest products and dog walking. Portions of the Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve in Tantalus and Manoa are not normally open to hunting because of the proximity to residential areas and the high public recreational use on the trail network in this area. Opening these areas up would put many more hunters and dogs in residential areas on a frequent basis," the DLNR said.

The committee approved the proposed measure anyway, and the bill likely is headed next to the House Finance Committee.

Woodlawn resident Sarah Preble said yesterday she has had 17 feral pigs removed from her two-thirds of an acre in Manoa Valley. She said pigs coming down the mountainside feed on her landscape plants and have left her family fearful to venture to the back of their property.

"We lived here more than 30 years before the pigs appeared. Now my granddaughters, aged 10 and 12, will not go more than 5 feet beyond the back deck without an adult. They're afraid," Preble said.

Kailua resident Mary Ikagawa said government and private agencies are spending vast amounts of money and time trying to protect the native forest at the same time the state is protecting pig populations by using closed seasons and bag limits. She said the animals are clearly one of the most severe threats to the native forest.

"The policy is brain-dead. Given what we know now, there should not be any sort of limit on the take of feral ungulates," she said.

O'ahu hunters who attended Friday's committee hearing said one of the issues for controlling the animals is lack of access. They asked the Legislature to help ensure the same kind of liberal access to mountain areas that the public has to coastlines.

The DLNR in its testimony opposed bounties, saying they generally are ineffective and may have negative consequences such as encouraging people to breed pigs, illegally hunt in areas without bounties, and trespass and poach on private lands.

Regardless of whether bounties are approved, it is clear the state needs a permanent open season on pigs with no bag limits, said Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawai'i.

"Feral pigs should not be allowed to roam freely in our native forests, watersheds and private property," Ziegler said.

Naturalists working in the Ko'olau Mountains of O'ahu regularly find soil churned up by pigs, soggy wallows, native plants ripped up, and increased erosion, all caused by feral pigs, said Ryan Smith, project coordinator of the O'ahu Invasive Species Committee.

"Pigs are probably one of the most damaging invasive species," Smith said.

The problem exists statewide, with millions of dollars spent to install fences around national parks and other sensitive areas.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.