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DLNR criticized over game plan


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has not forgotten about a game management plan drafted for Hawaii County three years ago but never enacted, says the agency’s Forestry and Wildlife chief.

The document was intended to be Hawaii’s first comprehensive approach to the management of its hunting resources, which could later be applied to other counties in the state.

A project coordinator hired only to draft the plan spent more than two years putting it together with the help of a task force that included members of the Big Island’s hunting community, which has long been critical of the state’s approach to game animals.

The approximately 175-page report was submitted to DLNR in April 2010. But then, according to its author, nothing happened.

The report’s coordinator and writer, Dick Hollinger of Puna, said he didn’t receive any feedback after it was finished and has been disappointed with what he sees as a lack of response or interest.

“A lot of people put in a lot of free time … thinking it was going to amount to something,” he said.

Roger Imoto, administrator for the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, acknowledged the document hasn’t been enacted or published. But, he said, it wasn’t because of a lack of interest.

Imoto, who became division chief earlier this year, said the plan fell short of what the agency was hoping to get.

Hollinger said the document included sections on the 21 game animals in the state as well as subjects such as the economic impact of hunting.

It concluded with nine recommendations, he said, including analyses of game population and habitat, revising hunting rules, and re-organizing the hunter education program.

“It was good information but it was not in the form of a management plan that we needed,” Imoto said.

He said he plans to follow-up on the report with a new or revised version but could not give a timeline for when that might be accomplished.

First, he said he needs to hire a permanent wildlife program manager. That position has been been filled temporarily for about a year, Imoto said.

“That will be a priority,” he said. “A game management plan is a next priority.”

The document has never been made public and only DLNR staff and those who helped draft it have been authorized to have a copy.

A request for a copy of the document by the Tribune-Herald was denied. An agency spokeswoman said in an email that it can’t be released because it is still in draft form and is not considered complete.

Hollinger, who believes it should be released, said he is not allowed to distribute it since it remains in draft form.

“It should be made public,” he said.

The plan cost about $54,300 to create.

Hollinger was the only paid staff person working on it.

If the agency wasn’t satisfied with the document, Hollinger said it should have recommended changes or published it with its comments.

“Maybe there is a way to resolve those (concerns),” he said. “That is certainly doable.”

Chris Miller, acting wildlife program manager, said the agency has requested $151,000 in federal funds to conduct a game animal assessment, one of the draft plan’s recommendations.

That would be conducted first on the Big Island in a partnership with the University of Hawaii, he said.

Establishing a game management plan has been a goal for the new Hawaii County Game Management Advisory Commission.

Commission Vice President Tom Lodge, who worked on the draft report, said a plan is needed to balance the needs of conservation with those of recreational and subsistence hunting.

A common complaint among hunters is that the state focuses too much on eliminating ungulates to protect endangered plants rather than treating them as a manageable resource.

“This (hunting) has been a way of life on this island,” Lodge said. “That is being taken away from people and there’s hard feelings.”

Hollinger, who is a hunter, said the report was critical of both DLNR and the hunting community.

Both Lodge and Hollinger see DLNR as being unresponsive to the needs of hunters.

Despite assurances from Imoto, they remain skeptical about whether the state will follow through on enacting a game management plan.

“I’ve been on this planet for 78 years, and I am always a hopeful optimist,” Hollinger said. “But do I expect it to happen? No.”

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