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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 26, 2010

Striving to protect state's resources

By Lee Cataluna

Randy Awo lives in two worlds. His job is rooted in ancient practices and traditional values, but some days he's dealing with inventions so new that no one has thought through all the implications.

"We have to be constantly educating ourselves," he says.

Awo, the Maui Branch manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement (commonly called DOCARE), was born and raised in Waimānalo Hawaiian Homes. His father was a game warden when Hawai'i was still a territory. Awo's job is the modern version of what his father did, but the lineage extends far beyond that.

"DOCARE is the equivalent of the konohiki of yesteryear," Awo says. "Managing and protecting resources goes back to traditional Hawaiian values. Fast forward to today, DOCARE is what's left."

His father used traditional knowledge to set up his patrols. He knew when and where certain fish were running, and he would move accordingly.

"There are patterns in nature that were traditionally understood, and our aim is for all of us to be conducting ourselves in such a way that we don't disrupt these processes."

Sometimes that means dropping the hammer. Often, it means trying to educate rule-breakers.

"We have to be prepared to engage in a variety of situations. We always approach with professional conduct, be courteous, treat people with respect, and as the situation escalates, we have to respond accordingly," he says. "We see a broad range of activities, from citizens making honest mistakes to someone out there who is dangerous, felons in possession of a weapon, guys with federal warrants out on them hunting with drugs in the car."

On Maui, Awo's team often has to untangle myriad situations that come under the term "user conflicts." There are beach wedding businesses setting out tables for candlelight dinners on the sand, crowding out beach goers and telling traditional throw-net fishermen to move away so they don't get in the wedding photos. There is no end to the creative ways people make up new extreme sports, and often it comes down to regulating civility. "First, when the windsurfers came in, they were beefing with the divers. Now they have kitesurfers who like beef with the windsurfers."

The latest sighting is a sand-skateboard with fat wheels that is propelled over the dunes by a sail, similar to windsurfing.

"We never can recapture what was lost, but our job as DOCARE officers is intended to slow down the loss," Awo says.

On Sunday, the story of how one DOCARE officer turned outlaws into allies.