It is very important that a clear message be sent to those responsible, via their direct actions, and to those whose inactions resulted in introducing axis deer and mouflon to the Big Island and Maui, respectively. We commend the investigating agencies, prosecutors and court for their diligence and perseverance in this important matter.
We would like to take this opportunity to highlight the great and lasting environmental, economic and potential public health and safety harm posed by axis deer, mouflon and other introduced and poorly controlled species. We urge our federal, state and local governments to recognize, to mitigate and acknowledge the significance of this matter to the lives and livelihoods of everyone and everything that lives in these islands.
Coincidentally, it was Hawaii’s ranchers that went to court over a half-century ago in the 1950s to successfully prevent the introduction of axis deer to the Big Island when they were being intentionally released on other islands.
The long-term damage these species may now impose on the state’s landscape, resources and agricultural businesses has been more than well-documented on Maui and continues to increase. The Maui axis deer population has grown from an estimated 2,000 animals in 2001, to an estimated 12,000 animals today.
Last year alone, Maui farmers and ranchers suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to crops and pastures during drought when individual herds of 500-700 ravenous axis deer formed. Standard farm, ranch and conservation fences that are about 4-feet high are no barrier to the leaping capabilities of axis deer in search of food. The cost of replacing or retrofitting fences to heights of 8 feet to exclude deer from pastures, farms and critical native forest areas is estimated to cost from $60,000 to $210,000 per mile, depending on terrain and fence quality.
Because of the inaction of government agencies to prevent past occurrences, followed by the actions of a few individuals who knowingly or perhaps unknowingly broke the law, it may be only a matter of time until this same pattern of resource destruction and financial loss that has ravaged grazing lands, farm lands and watersheds on Maui is not only repeated on the Big Island, but repeated at a larger scale due to the island’s greater size.
Beyond these property and resource losses, axis deer have been historically known to be infected with bovine tuberculosis on the east end of Molokai. Multiple uncontrolled species — including donkeys, feral goats, axis deer, and feral swine — cause dozens of motor vehicle accidents throughout the state. Again, Hawaii Island can expect increased occurrences if axis deer get established there.
We ask that not only the justice system send a clear, forceful, and effective message, but that other branches of government effectively legislate, executively make cautious and sound decisions, and enforce laws and regulations so that such egregious acts as those now before the court and those contributing factors resulting from poor past government decisions and inactions come to an end.
We are suffering with exploding populations of certain non-native animals in places where they do great economic and ecological damage.
We therefore respectfully urge the court to look for an opportunity to address the very long-term negative effects of the choices and actions of individuals convicted, meaningfully involve them in addressing those negative effects, and sufficiently deter others from similar behavior.
We also respectfully urge the other branches of government to step up their actions to address the concerns mentioned above, mitigate current issues and prevent future occurrences. As stakeholder and allied agriculture industries and environmental organizations, we will do our part to support and work towards the same.
This column was co-authored by Herbert “Tim” Richards III, president, Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council; Anthony “Britt” Craven Jr., chairman, Hawaii Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative; Dean Okimoto, president, Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation; and Suzanne Case, executive director, The Nature Conservancy, Hawaii Program.