Park approves ungulate control plan


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park announced Tuesday that it has adopted a finalized plan to protect the park’s ecosystem from damage by non-native ungulates, or hoofed species.

The plan doesn’t represent much of a break from the same control measures park staff have been using since the 1970s, explained Environmental Protection Specialist Danielle Foster.

“Basically, this plan is just an updating of things we’ve been doing since the ’70s,” she said. “It doesn’t propose very much new, rather just reaffirming our management plan which has been passed down among employees.”

The plan, which is available at parkplanning.nps.gov/havo_ecosystem_rod, calls upon a number of “management phases” which could ultimately lower the park’s population of pigs and goats to zero. Those phases include population monitoring, systematic use of lethal means in the reduction of population numbers through shooting, snares or baiting, as well as control via fencing, Foster said.

“We will continue to do control by shooting, and for certain species baiting or snaring, and things like that,” she said. “We try to shoot them first to control. It’s the quickest and most humane. But when something’s been elusive, we have a wide range of tools available.”

The park could also use non-lethal techniques, such as relocation, according to the plan.

“The NPS will adhere to guidelines from the American Society of Mammalogists and the American Veterinary Medical Association to ensure that management actions are conducted as humanely as possible to minimize non-native ungulate suffering,” the park’s plan decision reads.

Qualified volunteers would also be used for ground shooting operations, although the new plan would not allow those volunteers to take the resulting meat home with them, in order to avoid the appearance of hunting, Foster said.

“This isn’t hunting, and we want to avoid giving the impression of hunting,” she said. “So, we’ll be looking at how we can donate those animals.”

The efforts are necessary due to the increasingly detrimental effect the non-native undulates have on native habitats in Hawaii.

“Non-native ungulates were first introduced to the Hawaiian Islands over 1,000 years ago when Polynesians brought domestic pigs to the islands,” reads a draft of the plan. “In the late 18th century, goats, European pigs, sheep, and cattle were introduced as a food source, and eventually some animals became feral (wild). Other non-native ungulates, such as the mouflon sheep that were introduced in the 1950s, were brought as game animals. Axis deer were brought to the Hawaiian Islands from India in late 1867 as a gift to Kamehameha V. Populations of these herbivores flourished because of the mild climate, an abundant food source, and a lack of predators.”

The plan explains that native plants lack defenses against the non-native ungulates, such as stinging hairs, repellent odors, or thorns, which other species of flora evolved over millions of years to discourage foraging behavior by large mammals.

“Non-native ungulates cause loss of vegetation, wildlife habitat degradation, and population decline for native Hawaiian species,” the draft says.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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