By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The Pele Defense Fund filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state’s Ka‘u Forest Reserve Management Plan.
The group, joined by individual hunters, claims that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources needs to conduct an environmental impact statement for the plan, which would fence 12,000 acres for habitat protection.
The plaintiffs say the $10.4 million fencing project, intended to protect native plant species and the watershed, will lead to the loss of hunting grounds, an impact they believe should trigger the study.
The study would analyze the impacts of a project on the environment, economy, cultural practices and social welfare.
The lawsuit, filed in 3rd Circuit Court, focuses on the hunting issue, which it argues impacts cultural practices.
“It doesn’t talk about what our needs are to be in the future,” said PDF President Palikapu Dedman, referring to subsistence hunting.
DLNR staff didn’t return multiple requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The agency drafted a 383-page environmental assessment to determine whether an EIS is needed. The state’s Office of Environmental Quality approved it in October and gave it a “finding of no significant impact,” making the additional study unnecessary.
DLNR has identified the forest reserve as a “critical watershed” for Ka‘u. It says the water supply is threatened by invasive species of both animals and plants.
The EA identifies 153 endemic plant species and at least 32 species of rare plants in the reserve and surrounding area.
Under the plan, DLNR would remove ungulates, including cattle, pigs and goats, with “special hunts” and trappings. The document also identifies hunting as an important “subsistence and cultural” practice in Ka‘u.
The area would be a candidate for introduction of the Hawaiian Crow, which is extinct in the wild, and would be fenced at 2,000 acres to 4,000 acres at a time as funding becomes available. It’s anticipated to take 15 years.
Public access would still be permitted through gates and “walk-overs.”
The fenced area would be be in the upper portion of the reserve. The reserve totals 61,641 acres.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.