By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Three years after a Mountain View hunter was critically injured in an accidental shooting on private property in Keaau, illegal hunting remains a big problem according to landowners and law enforcement authorities.
On July 5, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway revoked the supervised release — the federal equivalent of probation — of 35-year-old Jarret Kaneshiro for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Kaneshiro, a convicted methamphetamine dealer, was on supervised release on June 19, 2010, when he was shot by one of four other hunters on farm land in Keaau owned by ML Macadamia Orchards. Mollway sentenced Kaneshiro to 11 months incarceration in a federal prison for the incident.
Bill Walter, president of W.H. Shipman Ltd., Puna’s largest private landowner, said that illegal hunters still pose a significant problem.
“In the Keaau area, not on our property, but in the (recent past) we’ve had two people shoot themselves while hunting,” he said. “That’s gives you some kind of idea what the danger is. If they are so careless with their weapons that they are managing to shoot themselves, it tells you. They’re out in the fields around Keaau, typically at night, hunting pigs. It’s something we’re trying to get stopped.”
County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said he knows of another instance since Kaneshiro where an individual sustained a gunshot wound while hunting illegally, but couldn’t provide any other details because the hunter was a minor at the time of the incident.
Walter said the poachers sometimes resort to vandalism.
“One of the things, for instance, is that they cut water lines we have out to the various farms,” he said. “They’ll come in and just maliciously cut them, particularly when they sense that we’re putting pressure to stop the illegal hunting. It’s not a small deal. It’s a significant issue for us, and we understand from talking to other ranchers and farms from the island, that everyone’s having significant problems with it. On an island where agriculture is a significant industry, and it’s an industry that the state very much needs, to have this going on is really not acceptable.”
Walter said that he’s convinced that legitimate hunters would “like to see the illegal hunting stopped, as well.”
That thought was echoed by ‘Ahiu Hawaii owner Orion Enocencio, who’s a hunter, guide and taxidermist.
“It is a big problem,” he said. “We have a ranch on the outskirts of Hilo and people go up there and hunt at night. It’s illegal and it is dangerous. People can fall into cracks and hurt themselves. Dogs can get hurt. Animals tend to sleep at night and guys tend to (hunt) at night because it’s easier. … You can’t see anything farther than your artificial light source. A property owner could be coming over and the (hunter) could think it’s a pig or something and somebody could be shot.”
Enocencio also said that vandalism sometimes happens “because the property owner comes out and busts (the hunters) and they like get revenge.”
Hamakua Community Policing Officer Zachary Fernando says illegal hunting is a problem in his district, as well.
“Those offenses are usually trespass and property damage,” he said. “The hunters sometimes cut the cattle fences to chase the pigs. And most hunters don’t bother to fix the fence when they’re done. Those are the kinds of problems that I’m investigating out here.”
Sometimes, things take a stranger turn. On June 30, two “woofers,” unpaid interns at Pu‘u‘ala Farm in Honokaa, were arrested and charged with livestock theft. The two men, 22-year-old Lonnie Knutson and 25-year-old Jason Williams, are accused of shooting and skinning a calf belonging to rancher Peter De Luz, who leases land from Pu‘u‘ala. The farm’s manager, Zach Gibson, said the men had found the animal injured in the gulch and shot it to put it out of its misery. De Luz and police maintain that the two men poached the calf for meat.
“We’ve had problems with people illegally hunting on private property, not just pigs, but shooting cows,” Roth said.
A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for July 18 at 2 p.m. in Hilo District Court.
Puna Patrol Lt. Reed Mahuna said he doesn’t have statistics for illegal hunting complaints, but calls the number “significant.”
“We’re doing what we can as far as enforcement action,” he said. “We’ve had several details to enforce hunting laws. It’s not an easy thing to enforce. There are vast areas of land and all different times of night, but we’re making some progress.”
Nahua Guilloz of Parker Ranch, which operates guided hunting tours, said the ranch also has problems with poachers on its property in Paauhau, near Honokaa.
“There’s a lot of eucalyptus trees there on land owned by Kamehameha Schools and by us. And the hunters go through that area, because it’s a lot harder to spot them in the brush and in the trees. They really hide up in that area,” she said. “On our Mauna Kea lands, up by Mana and Saddle Road areas, it’s harder for people to hunt and hide. We do have people poaching at night with spotlights and that, but our security is out and about, being a deterrent as best as they can. We don’t have trouble with people cutting fences in that area because it’s open range and Mana Road is a county road.”
Guilloz said that ranch security doesn’t have the authority to detain illegal hunters and that it’s “getting harder and harder to catch them.”
“We allow our employees to hunt on our properties, so it’s kind of a deterrent to the illegal hunters if our employees are out there. But it is a problem, and we work hard to keep that down to a minimum.”
Hamakua Patrol Capt. Andrew Burian, who transferred recently from the Ka‘u district, said the issues are the same in both locations.
In Ka‘u, we’re addressing that with some of the landowners,” he said. “At Kapapala Ranch, for instance, one of their concerns is trespassing to go up to lands to hunt up above the ranch. At the same time, it also involves hunting on their lands.”
Walter helped form the island’s first illegal hunting task force and farm watch in 2010 with other landowners, tenant farmers and law enforcement.
“The problem has continued to worsen over the years,” he said. “People seem to feel that they have a right to come walking through your property looking for pigs whenever they want. To begin with, they don’t have that right. But beyond that, we have very active and productive farms. These lease farmers put their lifeblood into this. And to see these hunters come in and damage crops and property and other threats that are out there, it’s a tough way to make a living, and we’re so dependent on it.
“That’s why we do what we do when we have that kind of problem, to get a group together to try to attack the problem and try to get some kind of control over it, which we don’t have at this point.”
Mahuna said he believes the key to controlling the problem is to educate the public.
“If you’re going to hunt on private property, you need permission from the landowner. Night hunting is prohibited. You have to be licensed to hunt. And you have to abide by the laws governing the transportation of your firearms,” he said.
Roth said that an individual caught trespassing with a loaded firearm could find face a charge of illegal place to keep a firearm, which is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, in addition to a misdemeanor trespass charge.
“These guys who are illegally hunting give a bad name to the guys who are actually doing it legally,” Roth said. “We have a lot of really conscientious hunters on our island who are concerned about preserving the sport and subsistence hunters who are conscious of the environment. It really looks bad when these other guys are out there breaking the law. It gives all hunters a black eye.”
Burian encouraged landowners and tenants to report illegal hunters.
“Just like with any other crimes, we may not be able to find any leads, but there are gonna be times that we catch somebody,” he said. “And more often than not, it’s gonna be the same people who are responsible for many of these incidents.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.