Officers educate as well as enforce
By Lee Cataluna
They are the law-and-order team that covers state land, from mountaintop to shoreline plus three miles out to sea, but when their boss brags about her team of all-terrain enforcement officers, she lauds their "sweet demeanor." It's not the sort of thing that comes to mind when you think "DOCARE."
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has a relatively small group of Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement officers to look after all that land and ocean — just 35 officers to cover all of O'ahu.
"Because DOCARE is so outnumbered when it comes to enforcement, the officers work hard on an educational approach to encourage people to comply with our rules and regulations, rather than simply a confrontational approach," said Laura H. Thielen, DLNR chairwoman.
One of the things the officers deal with is unauthorized hunting.
"There are guys in their 50s and 60s who have never possessed a valid hunting license in their lives," said O'ahu branch manager Guy Chang. He would see these guys on his beat, talk story and try to persuade them to take the course required for a hunting license. Finally, his efforts paid off.
"They approached me and asked how they could set up a hunter safety course. I told them all you need is to get 20 guys registered and find a place where we can hold a class for two days," Chang said. Then came the revelation he wasn't expecting: "They told me, 'Some of us can't read or write.' "
Chang worked with the manager of the hunter safety program to allow an oral final exam rather than a written test. Instead of having to round up 20 hunters, close to 50 people signed up for the class, including a group of 15-year-olds and one guy who was 72. They all passed the test.
"A couple of the guys who were illiterate had the highest scores," Chang said. To celebrate, the class threw a graduation party. "It was the best party, with quarterhinds on a rotisserie and coolers of fish," Chang said. "It was a big thing for some of them, like graduation, because they hadn't graduated from high school."
These days, with the economy in such bad shape, more people are hunting and fishing for food. Beach bathrooms are being used more heavily for free showers and state parks are becoming camping grounds. Resource conservation is more complicated than ever, and DOCARE officers try to create community allies. Chang still sees his proud, licensed hunters around his old beat. They symbolize a win.
"We pass each other on the road and wave," he said.