Wednesday | October 18, 2017
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Park announces ungulate management plan


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has released a new ungulate management plan that includes fencing and both lethal and non-lethal techniques.

Removal of ungulates, or hoofed animals, has been a long goal for the park due to their impact on native and endangered species.

Up to as many as 20,000 goats were thought to have been wandering the park in large herds in the early 1900s, said Rhonda Loh, park natural resources chief.

Sheep now make up the largest ungulate population, with “several hundred” estimated in the Kahuku area of the park, she said.

An unknown, but likely small, number of pigs and goats inhabit the park.

“A systematic effort of controlling, removing the animals in combination with fencing has proved to be an effective strategy,” Loh said.

Eradication efforts have continued and the new management plan is meant to update procedures that may be as much as 30 years old.

Shooting, from both ground and air, will continue while fencing will be expanded to cover the Kahuku unit, which covers much of the southwest flank of Mauna Loa, and ‘Ola‘a rainforest.

Under the plan, the park will attempt trapping and removing animals if a willing recipient is found.

The document also allows for carcasses to be donated for consumption for the first time.

“We are hoping we can work with nonprofits,” Loh said.

Additional eradication techniques, such as use of bait stations to attract larger groups, and infrared technology may be used.

The park is also aiming to take a “systematic approach” that helps plan for the next three decades, she said.

“You can’t just rely on institutional knowledge of staff,” Loh said. “You want this document to take us forward.

“People may come and go but that document will be something they can refer to.”

In the last fiscal year, which ended in September, the park killed about 250 ungulates in Kahuku and about two to three dozen near sensitive nene nesting areas, she said.

Removal of ungulates, which aren’t native, is about protecting the ecosystem and habitat for native species, Loh said.

They can cause extensive damage to native species by removal of ground cover, heavy browsing and increased erosion, according to the plan. They also lack natural predators, allowing their numbers to multiply quickly.

“Hawaii is a special place,” Loh said. “And the plants and animals, you can’t find them anywhere else in the world.

“They are products of these islands.

“And it’s an incredible heritage and great responsibility for us to take care of these areas.”

Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said there are 50 endangered native plants and animals within the park.

The park encompasses about 333,000 acres.

Goats below 9,000-foot elevation have been eliminated while pigs from roughly 40,000 acres of fenced land have been removed.

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