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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 19, 2006

DLNR chief: endangered species need better laws

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

A state official said he would like to see stiffer penalties imposed on anyone who harms an endangered species after a decapitated monk seal was discovered on a remote beach of Kaua'i's North Shore.

Peter Young, director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, characterized the incident as "disturbing" and something that he can't recall happening in Hawai'i. He said the adult female seal was decomposing and appeared to have been dead when it was mutilated, but he said that doesn't lessen the crime.

"We're dealing with a species that is in limited supply, limited numbers worldwide, and that any inappropriate behavior is going to be prosecuted," Young said.

Justin Freemon, 24, was arrested May 12 on Kaua'i and charged with violating the state's Endangered Species Act, a misdemeanor. If convicted, Freemon would face up to a year in prison and $250 fine.

Young said the Kaua'i County prosecutor is handling the case and that he did not have any information about Freemon. The Kaua'i prosecutor's office could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Young said that the punishment for anyone harming an endangered animal is the same, whether the animal is alive or dead. He said he would like to see stricter penalties enacted to deter people from harming these animals.

"We have been looking at various penalties for activities on natural and cultural resources and we are typically seeking stricter and stronger penalties just so it can be a deterrent," Young said. "We don't want people doing things bad. We want to stop people from doing them."

But in this case, Young said, he is not sure whether stricter laws would have prevented the mutilation.

"This is not typical behavior," he said. "It's not like it was in a condition, as I understand, that would be anything you'd want to mount."

On May 1, DLNR officials on Kaua'i received a tip that a decapitated seal was in a rocky area of Pila'a Beach near Kilauea. Officers later found a man, identified by DLNR as Freemon, with the seal's head, Young said.

He said the incident is under investigation and DLNR is trying to determine how the seal died.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.