HTH: Aerial hunting ban gets OK

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Hawaii Tribune-Herald, June 07, 2012

Aerial hunting ban gets OK

By PETER SUR

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Hawaii County Council moved one step closer toward asking voters whether they support the creation of a Game Management Advisory Commission. They also approved a bill to ban the practice of eradication by aerial shooting in the county.

After listening to hours of testimony on the subject, council members approved a charter amendment to create the commission on first reading. The vote was 8-0, with Councilman Dennis Onishi excused.

The bill must pass the council two more times with at least six votes in favor each time before it can go to voters for approval in November. If the lawmakers do not change their positions in the next few weeks, the question will appear on the ballot.

If voters approve it, the commission would advise government agencies on matters relating to subsistence hunting and fishing, and the protection of traditional and cultural gathering rights.

The only requirement for the commission’s nine members is that each shall come from a different council district. As with other commissions, members would be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

Commissioners will be charged with issuing “recommendations that conserve and protect the natural and cultural resources of Hawaii” regarding the island’s ability to be more self-sufficient and improve food sustainability.

Council Chairman Dominic Yagong was moved to introduce the charter amendment after hearing concerns from hunters that the decisions made by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources were not responsive to island hunters.

“It is so important that we provide a voice for our local community,” Yagong said.

Councilman Pete Hoffmann said the state has not managed its resources as responsibly as it should have.

“We’re going to put a stake in the sand here” for home rule, Councilwoman Brenda Ford said. “We need to do this.” She asked voters to push their candidates for the state Legislature on the issue.

Lawmakers also watched a presentation by hunter Tony Sylvester on the impact of low-level helicopter flights on endangered palila birds. Sylvester’s slideshow included graphic images of goat carcasses trapped in fence lines and videos of wild cats preying on young birds.

The council also gave unanimous approval to a bill to outlaw “the eradication of any animal for any reason while being transported by helicopter, airplane, or any other similar means.” The vote was 8-0, and must be passed by the mayor one more time before it can go to the mayor for his approval or veto.

Before the council could tackle hunting issues, however, lawmakers listened to 84 members of the public give passionate testimony on bills pending before the council, among them bills relating to geothermal and hunting. The meeting opened at 8 a.m., and with a few breaks testimony continued until 5 p.m.

Comments were generally supportive of the creation of a game management advisory commission and also in favor of a ban on aerial shooting.

“If you guys take helicopters and gun everything down, there’s going to be nothing to eat,” said one man, Isaac Williams. A minority of speakers supported the continuation of aerial shooting as a necessary tool to keep the ungulate population in check and prevent an explosion of the axis deer population, but it was clear the hunters had mobilized in support of the ban.

Hunters told horror stories of coming across the carcasses of animals that had been shot from the air and left to rot.

“I’m sorry for (my kids) to see what the state is doing right now,” said one Waimea man.

During the discussion, Hoffmann called Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida to ask whether the council could pass the county law in the light of a memo from the attorney general regarding a federal mandate for the aerial shootings. Ashida replied that the county could pass the law, but the county may not have the ability to enforce it.

But council members felt it was still important to tell the state that “this is the direction we want to go,” as Councilman Donald Ikeda said.

“No more aerial hunts,” Ford said. She called for local hunters to come in and put meat on their family’s tables.

Pilago credited one member in the audience, Puna elder Sam Kaleleiki, for pushing for approval of the ordinance.

“We have to draw the line in the sand someplace in pursuit of justice and social responsibility,” Pilago said.

After the vote, those in the audience erupted in a brief applause.

Email Peter Sur at psur@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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