DLNR worker says budget cuts hurting enforcement efforts on Kauai
By Leo Azambuja
Special to The Garden Island
The death of Kauai resident Rodney Ahn in Kalalau Valley last month has prompted a state Department of Land and Natural Resources employee to raise questions about funding cuts, which he says are hurting the agency’s ability to perform its duties.
The DLNR employee, who asked not to be identified, said the cutbacks have opened a wide door to unregulated camping and illegal hunting and fishing.
Before Ahn’s body was found, it had been five months since DLNR officers had been to Kalalau to enforce camping laws, he said. The DLNR employee said Ahn had been fined and told to leave on several occasions, but always found a way to come back.
During winter months, when the surf is usually large, DLNR officers have to be flown into Kalalau by helicopter, the employee said. Without funding it’s difficult for the DLNR to enforce camping laws in Kalalau during winter. The rest of the year officers can hitch rides with tour boats.
The DLNR is “working with State Parks Division to secure helicopter services that will allow more regular enforcement patrols in Kalalau Valley,” DLNR Information Specialist Deborah Ward said.
In the week following Ahn’s death, DLNR officers went into Kalalau Valley. Ward said they issued 40 citations.
Kalalau’s remoteness “has posed a challenge to resource management and enforcement,” she added.
The DLNR employee was also concerned that marijuana cultivation might be increasing in Kalalau due to lack of enforcement.
Ward said the DLNR has 14 officers on Kauai who cover land and water. Enforcing has become a challenge “due to mandatory furlough days which require staggered shifts to spread out coverage.”
DLNR officers continue to “conduct marijuana eradication operations on state lands through the cooperation of the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program,” she said. “Kalalau Valley is incorporated into these missions.”
The DLNR employee said he is familiar with Kalalau and emphasized no enforcement had been done there between summer’s end and the week after Ahn’s death.
The DLNR employee also said island-wide poaching has grown considerably in the last few months.
The employee said DLNR’s night-wages cost an extra 50 cents an hour. But because of cutbacks, officers go home at 6 p.m., and enforcement stops.
“It’s anybody’s game after that,” he said.
“You drive by Kokee in the morning, and a koa tree that was there the night before is gone. A whole koa tree, a 100-year-old tree,” the DLNR employee said.
The DLNR employee said thieves often are not able to haul all logs in one night, so they hide the logs in the bushes. Sometimes the officers are able to recover them, and the logs end up being sold to private parties.
Ward said DLNR officers are “definitely aware of ongoing problems with koa trees being cut down and being removed from state forests. Enforcement officers have been patrolling, enforcing and arresting subjects for years, but thefts continue.”
Penalties for resource theft increased about two years ago, Ward said. Thieves could be fined the equivalent of the market value of the resource stolen, plus the administrative cost of the enforcement action. They are also required to restore the damaged area.
“In cases of theft of a mature koa tree the penalty could be in the range of $50,000,” Ward said.
Hawaii Revised Statutes says each koa tree larger than six inches at ground level — or even a portion of it — may lead to a fine of $10,000 if taken illegally.
Hunting enforcement is taken seriously by the DLNR, but when officers go home “all these ice-heads come out and shoot anything that moves,” the employee said. Not only are they taking resources illegally, he said, but someone could get seriously hurt or even killed.
Ward said statewide, the DLNR is “looking to work more cooperatively with county police departments to carry out effective community policing efforts.”
DLNR faces many challenges due to the poor economy, she said. “This is prompting us to focus on maintaining our core functions to protect public health and safety and the sustainability of our natural resources.”
Ward’s statement contrasts with the DLNR employee’s poaching complaint. He said unless someone gets lost or there’s a fire, there’s no enforcement during furlough days, holidays or night-time.
The DLNR encourages the public to be part of the solution and share the responsibility of being “stewards of the natural resources,” Ward said.
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