WHT: Yagong seeks ban on aerial hunting

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West Hawaii Today, May 22, 2012

Yagong seeks ban on aerial hunting

By Nancy Cook Lauer

West Hawaii Today


HILO — Council Chairman Dominic Yagong is taking up the cause of local game hunters who are feeling increasingly pushed aside as wilderness is fenced off and game animals are shot from the sky.

Yagong is sponsoring two bills to be heard at the June 6 County Council meeting in Hilo. One would outlaw any aerial shooting of game animals. The other is a charter amendment to create a county Game Management Advisory Council.

“It’s just not within the traditional values of the people of this county to have a practice that kills animals from the sky and have those animals die and rot on the mountains,” Yagong said Tuesday, “especially when we have so many people having a difficult time putting food on the table.”

Subsistence hunting has long been a part of the island culture. A baseline study of food self-sufficiency in Hawaii County released last week estimates that hunters add 163,000 pounds of meat — primarily from goats, sheep and pigs — to island tables over the course of a year. Bird hunting also contributes to the Big Island diet.

“Hawaii County shall declare home rule that states that aerial killing of wildlife from a helicopter using rapid gunfire is an unacceptable practice and is not in harmony with the values and culture of the people of our island,” Yagong said.

The county can’t legally declare such “home rule” rights because state law takes precedence, said William Aila, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which regularly conducts aerial eradication programs against invasive species on state land.

“State law has jurisdiction on this issue,” Aila said. “The state statute allows aerial shooting, and we will continue to do aerial shooting where it’s proper and where it’s effective.”

DLNR most recently held aerial shooting Feb. 21-22 targeting goats, sheep, mouflon and hybrids within the Palila critical habitat in the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve. Salvage permits were issued for those wishing to retrieve carcasses left in two drop-off areas, according to the DLNR website.

The state says eradication of the feral wildlife is needed to protect the forest from overgrazing.

Yagong said he hopes that once a county ordinance is in place, the county’s legislative delegation will take notice and help change state law for Hawaii Island, even if the state wants to continue the practice on other islands.

Pat Pacheco is one Big Island hunter who wants to see the state activities stop. Pacheco said he’s hunted on the mountains since 1950, and he’s seen the forest become an overgrown fire hazard because the feral goats and pigs haven’t been able to maintain it.

“These so-called scientists don’t know what they’re talking about. They come in here and get grant money and deprive the people of food. … It used to be a forest, and now it’s a jungle,” Pacheco said. “I think people are fed up. We have the right to fight for our resources.”

The charter amendment creating a Game Management Advisory Council would give hunters a forum to bring their views to the table and lobby for changes at the county, state and federal level, Yagong said. The commission would be set up like most commissions in the county, with one member from each of nine council districts, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

The commission would be charged with advising government agencies on matters related to the preservation of subsistence hunting and fishing, as well as protecting traditional and cultural gathering rights, according to the bill.

“The commission shall promulgate rules that shall conserve and protect Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources in furtherance of the self-sufficiency and long-term subsistence sustainability of the county,” according to the bill.

The charter amendment would go to the November ballot, if the council passes it three times with at least six votes.

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