By AUDREY McAVOY
HONOLULU — Maui hunters are forming a cooperative to kill axis deer that are overrunning farms and ranches on the Valley Isle.
Hunters in the Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Cooperative will get to keep the venison they get. Owners of property where the deer are killed may also keep some meat if they wish.
U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors will accompany some of the hunts. This will allow some of the meat to be inspected and sold commercially to restaurants and farmers markets.
“The formation of the (cooperative) is our first step towards controlling this invasive species and turning a pest into a resource,” Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa said in a statement.
The cooperative will start off with 20 hunters. All will have a valid Hawaii hunter’s license, have National Rifle Association certification, and have undergone background checks.
The hunters will also undergo safety training designed by an experienced Maui deer hunter and will be covered by the cooperative’s liability insurance. The cooperative hopes this will persuade private property owners to invite them onto their land to hunt the animals.
“We wanted to be able to calm fears that private landowners have about just anyone has coming onto their property,” said Phyllis Robinson, cooperative co-founder and coordinator of the pilot project.
How many deer the cooperative kills will depend on how many property owners ask for help. But Robinson said she expects the hunters to go out three times a week, killing five deer each night, or about 780 a year. Their first hunt will be this month.
The cooperative is receiving $75,000 from the Hawaii Invasive Species Committee and $37,500 from the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.
Deer don’t have any natural predators in Hawaii, and their numbers are growing 20 to 30 percent a year on islands where they’ve been introduced.
A few deer were brought to Maui in the 1950s as part of post-World War II efforts to introduce mammals to different places and increase hunting opportunities for veterans.
The latest official estimate for the population is 12,000, but many believe Maui now has several time that many.
Maui County estimates the deer have caused $1 million in damage over the past two years at farms, ranches and resorts on the island.