Deer overpopulation eating into Maui ranchers’ resources and profits


Dozens of Maui ranchers and farmers are struggling to stay afloat because of a massive overpopulation of deer. By some estimates, there are about 80,000 axis deer on the island. Ranchers say the animals are eating away resources and profits.

Longtime rancher Jerry Thompson of Thompson Ranch has a big problem. “We get problems with the deer, yeah? Since I been on this ranch and raising cattle here, I see the problems. It’s overwhelming,” he starts.

The axis deer are eating his cattle’s grass. “They competing with the cattle- which is half of what I used to raise, and I still not doing good because of the drought,” he tells me.

He is just one of 90 ranchers The Maui Cattlemen’s Association says it works with, and all have the same complaint. President William Jacintho notes, “Most people are down to half [their herd size]. In the drier areas, it’s even less than that.”

But it’s about more than money, Jacintho contends. “Without the grass comes erosion; you lose your soil, that ends up in the ocean.”

Thompson wholeheartedly agrees. “It’s about the land. I no like see it the way it’s doing. I love my mountain, and this island. It’s not about the money I make on the cattle so much as, what going happen to the land?”

County Councilmember Yuki Lei Sugimura says on August 17, the county will launch a Deer Task Force to tackle the problem. It’s also commissioned an assessment, which will be ready in the fall. She says the county allocated a quarter million dollars next fiscal year to control the deer population on the Valley Isle.

One rancher says they’re running out of time. How much longer do you think the ranchers and farmers on Maui can sustain this?, I ask.

Jacintho quickly asserts, “We cannot already. Our backs are up against the wall.”

Help is on the way: Funding to assist ranchers in battling two-lined spittlebug

West Hawaii Today
By Laura Ruminski –

Help is on the way for Big Island ranchers fighting an invasive bug decimating pasture land in North and South Kona.

Franny Brewer of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee said the two-lined spittlebug (TLSB) could fit easily on a fingernail, looking innocuous and almost pretty with its orange-on-black stripes. But for Big Island ranchers, the sudden appearance of this insect in South Kona 2016 was anything but welcome. Since then, this tiny insect has spread prolifically, destroying more than 175,000 acres of pasture in the few short years since its arrival.

“The impact this little bug is having on pastures … is catastrophic,” said Mark Thorne, University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service State Range and Livestock Extension Specialist. Thorne and his team have been working since 2016 to find and track TLSB, all while searching for solutions. So far, they have found few strategies for mitigating the damage.

“We have seen the impact zone of this pest increase by about 35,000 acres per year, it’s spreading and it is very, very difficult to control,” Thorne said.

Already, affected ranchers have been forced to reduce herd sizes as the TLSB threatens Hawaii’s $65 million cattle industry. In response, the 2021 state Legislature approved $350,000 funding from the American Rescue Plan to support affected ranchers and fund ongoing research into mitigating the damage. The funds will be directed to the state Department of Agriculture to be used in responding to the invasive spittlebug.

“Hawaii’s food sustainability and resiliency depends on our ability to produce nutritious, affordable, healthy protein,” Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council Managing Director Nicole Galase said, adding that she hopes to work closely with the state Department of Agriculture to ensure the money has the greatest impact on the long-term sustainability of the ranching industry on Hawaii Island.

Keith Unger, who manages McCandless Ranch in South Kona, said the entity has yet to see the invasive bug in its pastureland.

“We’re not affected by it so far, but our next door neighbor is, so it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “It is a scary situation. The Legislature has definitely realized the potential devastation of this insect and that it could go further than just affecting the ranchers at the point that it affects watershed and erosion. If all of a sudden all these grasses disappear and you have nothing but bare ground or weeds, and all of a sudden you have flooding issues, you have soil retention issues.”

Even though the bug has been contained in the Kona region, Unger said the concern obviously is it spreading out of Kona and up into North and South Kohala, where Parker Ranch, one of the largest private owned ranches in the nation is located.

“The cattlemen there and on the other islands are definitely keeping an eye out on this and are participating in educational outreach just to make sure we can contain as best we can,” Unger said. “McCandless only has Guinea grass and akoa, and so far, spittlebug does not affect those feed sources. But anyone who has kikuyu or pangola in particular seems to be mostly affected.”

Roy Wall said Wall Ranch in Kealakekua was not so lucky.

“We started seeing the spittlebug back in 2016 around the same time that a few other Kona ranchers started seeing it,” said Wall. “By 2020, we had seen 100% of our kikuyu and pangola pastures decimated. Invasive weeds have moved in with no grass cover to hold them out.”

Wall said the ranch was forced to reduce its cow heard on those pastures by 50%.

“I feel like we are past the disaster phase and are moving in to the recovery and rebuild phase,” he said. “We have been working on trying to find resistant grasses — and some look promising — but its’ going to take years to recover. I’m hopeful that this bug will run through its initial explosion and find a balance.”

Brewer, with the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, said the team at the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Cooperative Extension Service, CTAHR-CES, has been testing some TLSB-resistant grasses that could be used to reseed pastures. However, unlike the broad open plains where these grasses have been successfully deployed in North America and Brazil, Hawaii pastures range over thousands of feet in elevation and multiple climactic zones, all over diverse substrates, including lava rock, that make reseeding difficult.

“No single grass can solve the problem,” said Carolyn Wong Auweloa, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service State Rangeland Management Specialist.

More research is crucial, she insisted, to help ranch lands recover. She pointed out that TLSB has completely killed forage in the heavily infested areas, effectively reducing productivity to zero and leaving behind a desolate swath that quickly fills in with invasive, toxic, and unpalatable weeds that in turn threaten the native forests that border the pastures.

“These grazing lands will not recover their productive potential without significant inputs to suppress weeds and attempt to re-establish forage species that can withstand the bug,” Auweloa said. “A lot of people don’t realize the important role ranchers play in maintaining the health of our watersheds.”

According to the state Department of Agriculture’s Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline study, grazing lands occupy over 760,000 acres in Hawaii.

“Healthy grazing lands have healthy, deeply rooted plant communities that cover the soil and help rainwater infiltrate to recharge our aquifers,” Auweloa said. “The funding from the Legislature will help to make these lands productive again, so they can continue to provide valuable ecosystem and social services, while feeding our livestock, our people and our economy.”

McCandless Ranch’s Unger said the help from the department is appreciated, but biosecurity at airports and ports needs to be beefed up because it’s becoming “one infestation after another.”

“We can and should spend more money at out ports and airports to stop these (invasives) from coming in,” he said. “Here we are, now spending hundreds of thousands and into the millions fighting on the back end. If you are going to talk about more ag sustainability you are right back to biosecurity for the State of Hawaii. Hopefully we can kickstart it again.”

Big Island residents are being asked to be alert about their lawns and pastures. Patches of dead grass that cannot be explained by other environmental factors should be reported right away to the state by visiting, calling (808) 643-PEST (7378) or using the 643-PEST mobile application for iOS and Android. Residents must also practice extreme caution in not transporting the insect out of its known infestation area.

A short documentary aimed at highlighting the plight of the ranchers and the impacts of TLSB in the hopes of raising awareness about the extreme threat to Hawaii’s agriculture can be found at

“This infestation is by far the worst thing I’ve seen in my 40-plus years of ranching in Kona but I’m confident that we will find a way to survive,” said Wall.

Wild pigs have huge impact on biodiversity

Star Advertiser
By Timothy Hurley

Hawaii conservationists know well the far-reaching impact of wild pigs on the environment. The non-native species is notorious for rambling through the forest as herbivore, top predator and ecosystem engineer, digging and rooting in the soil to help transform the natural landscape.

A team of researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia has found that wild pigs have a huge impact on biodiversity around the world but perhaps none greater than on islands.

As it turns out, Polynesia was the most threatened region globally with nearly 20% of all species affected by wild pigs, the study found.

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports following a multiyear effort combing through data in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

“We found that in addition to the over 300 plant species threatened by wild pigs globally, wild pigs actively predate and destroy critical nesting sites for hundreds of threatened and endangered reptiles, amphibians and birds,” said lead author Derek Risch, a wildlife spatial planner in the Hawaii Wildlife Ecology Lab in UH’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management.

In total, wild pigs were found to threaten 672 species in 54 countries across the globe. Most of these taxa are listed as critically endangered or endangered, and 14 species have been driven to extinction as a direct result of impacts from wild pigs.

That puts feral pigs up there with some of the word’s most problematic species with similar global distribution, including feral cats, rodents, mongooses and wild dogs.

“I’m hoping to draw more attention to the global impact of wild pigs,” Risch said, adding that those impacts are actually poorly understood in comparison with some of the other invasives.

The researchers found that wild pigs affect similar numbers of species in both North America and Europe despite the fact that pigs are native to Europe and considered invasive to North America.

But island endemic species are particularly vulnerable, according to the study, especially plants, reptiles and amphibians.

Risch said islands evolved without similar omnivores, and they have a propensity to host higher densities of pigs that cause all kinds of environmental havoc in the wild.

Pigs, or puaa, were brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians many centuries ago. Capt. James Cook brought European breeds in the late 1700s, which were released into the wild, and it eventually made the Hawaiian pigs bigger.

Today the puaa continues to make for outstanding hunting, but natural-resource managers are erecting fences and taking other measures to prevent the pigs from further degrading the landscape. Hunters and land managers often work together, but conflicts have been known to erupt.

Risch, who also has been modeling the distribution of hoofed animals across Hawaii, said the study highlights the importance of different groups working together to come up with solutions for managing the wild pigs.

“Hunters are essential,” he said. “They play a crucial role in managing the pigs.”

The study found that wild pigs rank close to feral cats in terms of the number of species affected, despite a well-deserved reputation regarding cats as the most detrimental invasive predator to island ecosystems.

A previous assessment, according to the paper, had identified 175 species threatened by feral cats on islands, while the latest study found that wild pigs threaten at least 131 species (63 reptiles, 65 birds, three mammals).

Given the role of wild pigs as both a top predator and destructive herbivore, their additional threats to plant and invertebrate taxa make them a serious cause for concern and indicate major ecosystem-level impacts, the study said.

What You May Not Know About Those April Flowers

New York Times
By Margaret Renk –

Americans have cultivated nonnative plants and flowers for so long it has skewed our experience of spring. –

My favorite spring flower blooms along the leafless branches of the lowly serviceberry, a small tree with varieties native to every state except Hawaii. In the old days, the serviceberry’s simple, five-petaled blossoms heralded springtime itself.

Appalachian tradition holds that the tree got its name because it bloomed just as snow melted on winding roads, just as mountain passes cleared. Serviceberry flowers meant that circuit-riding preachers would be along soon to perform the weddings and funeral services winter had long delayed.

As with all beloved wild plants, these harbingers of spring have many common names. What we call a serviceberry here in Tennessee is what people in other regions call by names like shadbush, sarvis, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum and chuckley pear, just to name a few. By whatever name they are locally called, the flowers were a welcome sight for the generations who came before us. Winter was over at last. Bright new life could begin.

Serviceberries are not much of a welcome sight anymore. So thoroughly have they been displaced from our cultivated landscapes, and for so many generations, that most Americans are unlikely to recognize this very American tree. For us, springtime means flowers that evolved for ecosystems in Europe and Asia, not for American yards.

Those cheerful daffodils you’ve loved since you were a child? They came here from northern Europe. The ubiquitous golden sprays of forsythia? Varieties originated in both eastern Asia and Eastern Europe. The star magnolia, the flowering quince and Yoshino cherry, the Bradford pear and many varieties of honeysuckle all came from Asia.

Well, what of it?, you might be thinking. We’re a nation of immigrants, and that cultural multiplicity is our greatest strength. Why shouldn’t we enjoy the loveliest flowers we can coax into growing, no matter where they originated? If what signals springtime to us is a spray of forsythia instead of the blooming branches of a serviceberry tree, what harm can there possibly be?

Quite a bit of harm, actually. Plants aren’t people. Ambulatory and omnivorous, human beings are a migratory species. That’s not true for the vast majority of plants, which evolved to thrive as part of the unique web of life that makes up an ecosystem.

Native flowers feed native insects, which in turn feed native birds, bears, bats, lizards and frogs. Native plants bear seeds that feed native rodents, which in turn feed native foxes, hawks, owls and snakes. Native trees provide nesting places for native birds and squirrels.

Wild creatures need wild plants to survive, but drive down any lane in any suburban neighborhood — or any landscaped city street — and what you are apt to see is a gorgeous, blooming wasteland where the flowers feed nobody at all.

Worse, such plants often go hand-in-garden-glove with an entire ethos of yard maintenance that relies on poison. Between the herbicides designed to kill weeds (including early-blooming wildflowers) and the insecticides designed to kill anything that crawls (including native pollinators), the typical suburban yard is actually worse than a wasteland. It’s a death trap.

And not just for native plants and animals. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters that some researchers say can have a devastating effect on human health, and may be linked to A.D.H.D., Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, infertility, cancers, just for starters.

As if that’s not enough, some of the exotic plants we’ve introduced into our formerly functioning ecosystems actually do more than thrive in our built landscapes. Some of them are so well adapted to their unnatural homes that they crowd out the plants that belong. In the American South, where our climate is so perfectly suited to plants from Asia, there is an easy way to know whether many plants are native or exotic: Drive past a forest or wooded city park in the very earliest days of springtime. Any tree or shrub that is greening up or blooming then almost certainly doesn’t belong. In March, the woods here are filled with blooming — and highly invasive — Bradford pear trees, while the buds on the serviceberries are still tightly furled.

It’s hard to address this problem because so many of these flowering trees and woody shrubs have been planted in American yards for so long that their blooms engender a nostalgia for home. And not just in our yards — the delicate blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees now belong as much to our own National Mall as they do to Japan.

My late mother planted the forsythia that is blooming so cheerfully in my yard right now. She also planted the Kwanzan cherry and the flowering crabapples that are on the verge of budburst. A few years ago, I dug up the bridal wreath spirea she planted for me but only because it wasn’t getting enough sun beneath the Leyland cypress tree she also planted. None are native to Middle Tennessee, but so far I haven’t been able to bring myself to kill them. Most grew from cuttings that came from my childhood home. At least one of them came from hers.

For now, my compromise is to fill our yard with plants that do the work nature designed them for: to feed our wild neighbors. All over this yard there are now young pawpaws and red mulberries, Eastern red cedars and American hollies, redbuds and native dogwoods and, yes, serviceberry trees. It’s not too late for you to do the same in your yards and your towns. The local county extension service or a native-plant nursery can help you find the trees and shrubs that work best for the soil and light conditions where you live. Even easier: Enter your ZIP code in the native plant databases at Audubon or the National Wildlife Federation.

“What if each American landowner made it a goal to convert half of his or her lawn to productive native plant communities?” asks Douglas W. Tallamy in “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.” His answer might astound you: “Even moderate success could collectively restore some semblance of ecosystem function to more than twenty million acres of what is now ecological wasteland.”

Think of it: 20 million acres of ecosystem that is healthier for other creatures, healthier for human beings, healthier for the planet. With only the smallest effort and expense, we could restore to springtime its most urgent purpose: to bring new life into the world.

Florida’s feral hogs: a pervasive pest – but a profitable one for some

The Guardian
by Jordan Blumetti –

Florida’s feral hogs: a pervasive pest – but a profitable one for some
The US’s most destructive invasive species numbers in the millions, clashing with a growing human population and boosting a lucrative hunting industry –

Dimas “Pompi” Rodriguez is standing in his front yard before dawn, his neck shielded from a bitter wind by the collar of his canvas jacket. He splits a cigarillo lengthwise and empties the guts on to his filthy swamp boots.

“We gonna catch some hogs today,” he says. “When it’s cold, they come out of the swamp.”

He rolls a joint with the cigarillo shell on the door of his mailbox and grins at the finished product. A tallish, broad-shouldered guy, Pompi hunts wild hogs for a living, which are known in Florida as a kind of quotidian foe. “We hunt every day – morning, night, it doesn’t matter,” he says.

Driving through a wooded retirement burg 30 miles south of Orlando, he makes a sharp turn off-road on to a dirt trail, and parks on a small mound in view of a cypress dome. He points out a series of depressions in the earth. “Those are hog wallows,” he says. “Look at how big they are.” The troughs are about the size of bathtubs with a cloud of flies hovering above, indicating they’re fresh, from the last couple of hours.

Pompi, 26, unlatches the tailgate and opens the crates bolted to his truck bed, releasing four hunting dogs that run hell-for-leather into the marsh, disappearing behind a low curtain of palmetto trees. Barking erupts in a warped echo. “That’s our hog,” he says. “Bubba jumped him.”

Taz, Sonny and Honey are specifically trained to chase and then bay, or howl, at the hog, keeping it cornered until the catch dog – Bubba, a fearsome American bull – charges in to deliver one crushing bite, pinning the hog by the ear. Pompi flips it by the hindquarters, hogties it and slings it across his shoulders. It can be grisly to witness, and dogs occasionally suffer lethal injuries in the process. “But it’s the best way to get the hog out alive,” Pompi says.

Upwards of 9 million wild boar roam 39 states across the US, which is up from an estimated 2 million in 17 states three decades ago. Florida hosts more than half a million – the second largest population of hogs in the country behind Texas, but also the oldest bloodline. The first pigs to arrive in America were brought by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who landed near present-day Tampa in 1539. They promptly escaped, establishing a critical mass of the now-ubiquitous vermin.

Today, wild hogs are considered the most destructive invasive species in the country, and the greatest wildlife challenge that the US faces in the 21st century. According to US Department of Agriculture estimates, they cause north of $2.5bn in damage each year. With gnarled tusks and bodies that can swell to the size of oak bourbon barrels, they trash watersheds, destroy crops, attack livestock, spread disease, terrorize residents and desecrate archeological sites; they are aggressive, whip-smart, lightning-fast and dine opportunistically on oak berries, trash, corn, carrion and each other. A passel of hogs can take out a commercial watermelon or tomato farm overnight, leaving the fields resembling a blast site from a hail of mortar shells.

Florida’s plight is especially severe because the state’s current housing boom, spurred by the pandemic, is rapidly turning the once rural stretches between Tampa and Orlando into a single conurbation. The same goes for the creeping inland sprawl in the rest of the state: wetlands, pine forests and vestigial orange groves that were recently hog habitats have become densely populated housing developments, strings of red-roofed tract homes and retirement communities. The majority of Florida’s new exurban residents, seniors in particular, are living closer to hogs than ever before.

“The new houses go up, and the hogs leave for a while, but they always come back,” Pompi says. He mentions the communes for adults over 55 in central Florida like The Villages, the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the US from 2010-2017, and its smaller counterpart, Solivita, a planned community inhabited by 6,000 baby boomers – Xanadu for the “active adult”.

“We’re on the edge of a land preserve,” says Madalyn Colon, director of safety and security for Solivita. “And the hogs are constantly destroying the fencing that separates Solivita from the wilderness.” As head of security, one of her chief responsibilities is contacting trappers like Pompi to remove hogs.

“I get calls from residents in the morning. The hogs mutilate the landscape, tear up all the nice St Augustine grass, and trash their yards,” she says. “It happens almost every day.”

Hostile encounters with people are not uncommon. Colon recalls the story of a new resident who was confronted and chased by a pregnant sow. “It’s the newer residents who aren’t hip to how bad it is over here.”

The hog issue is not thought of as a solvable problem, but one that could only be attenuated. Although trapping – after which they are sterilized, killed, sold for hunting or released elsewhere – is the most common form of hog mitigation, the traps themselves are often ineffectual. The creatures are smart enough to eat every kernel of corn inside a box trap except the one that trips the trigger.

For over three centuries, hogs were mostly confined to the south-east, in relatively manageable numbers, but biologists have watched them increase by 20% annually over the last decade and their range double since 1980. In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of a poison bait – the single most promising development for managing the ecological crisis to date – but a series of lawsuits from hog hunting and rifle groups, and the potential for the toxicant to be spread throughout the ecosystem, has led to it being taken off the market.

As such, the bulk of the mitigation crusade continues to rest unevenly on the shoulders of hunters. The intractable growth of hog populations has been used to justify a year-round open season with no kill limits in Florida, as well as several other states in the south-east, contributing in large measure to Florida’s billion-dollar hunting industry.

Tree-stand hunts are as cheap as $100 per person, allowing both marksmen and dilettantes to kill pigs until they run out of ammunition. There are several companies in Texas charging tourists thousands of dollars to shoot at sounders – hog herds – with machine guns while leaning out of a helicopter. In Florida, anyone can start an ad-hoc hunting club – all you need is some forested land, barbed-wire fencing and a $50 game farm license. These eradication methods are encouraged and subsidized by the USDA and state governments. But the ethics, and whether or not the commercial appeal of hog hunting is contributing to the problem, are rarely considered.

A shot rings out across a private, 2,000-acre ranch near Arcadia, Florida. A dozen head of cattle turn their long faces towards the shooter, Corey Woosley. One hundred yards away is the boar, on its back, four hooves quivering towards the sky before going stiff and falling leeward.

Woosley helps with the upkeep of the property here, which is only open for hunting to friends and family of the owner. Two years ago, he defected from a much larger ranch in the area, where he worked as a hunting guide, after feeling alienated by a pervading cavalier attitude towards killing. He describes it as a general disregard for life – pig lives in particular.

Commercial hunting ranches in Florida are open to residents and tourists year-round, and can cost over $100,000 annual memberships, or $5,000 a hunt in some instances. Alligator, waterfowl, deer, bison and boar are among the primary targets.

“It’s great that they’ve made an industry out of hunting hogs,” he says “And I don’t judge people who shoot 50 at a time. I guess my part to play is just different than theirs.” He no longer hunts hogs for sport, or for money, but he still has a duty to target them on the ranch occasionally, for the purposes of land and wildlife conservation.

“That’s probably the biggest one I’ve ever shot,” he says approaching the body. It has a prominent European coloration, jagged tusks arcing out of its jaw, and the rigid shield-like shoulders that all mature males develop. He leans down to examine the entry wound, a small red bubble underneath the ear.

“It’s always hard to know if I made the right decision,” he says. “But at the same time I know that everyone else will be happy that he’s gone.”

The rub is that the hunting industry is at least partially responsible for the recent explosion of hog populations in America. In the second half of the 20th century, ranchers realized their value as game and began introducing Eurasian wild boar on private and public ranches across the south-east for the delectation of hunters. The hogs escaped, as is their wont, or were simply released, and bred with existing feral and domestic populations. They have since become the second-most popular game in the country behind white-tail deer.

“The hog thing is complicated,” Woosley says. “The population needs to be controlled, and we shouldn’t kill indiscriminately, but at the same time we’re all addicted to farmed foods and don’t want to eat wild game.”

The sun washes through the pasture as he drives an off-road buggy to the site of another kill from earlier in the morning – turkey buzzards have started to peck at the gut. “I’m just trying to get to a place where I’m only killing when I can use the meat,” he says.

The butchering takes about 20 minutes, and he comes away with two hams and two lean tenderloins that run the length of the backbone. “There,” he says, placing the hams in a black trash bag. “That should last a couple weeks.”

“I’ve probably trapped close to 10,000 hogs,” Pompi shouts from underneath the hood of his truck. He’s changing a spark plug at his neighborhood mechanic shop. “They’ll call me and say they need 20 hogs in two days, and I run all over the state to catch them,” he says, referring to the buyers who purchase hogs to stock their hunting ranches.

“I’m an outlaw.” Pompi means he’s a poacher, which is a grave offense in Florida – unless you are poaching hogs. He says most landowners and law enforcement turn a blind eye. It’s considered a public service.

Over the last decade he’s seen the popularity of hog hunting on private ranches explode. But that also meant hogs were being killed in such large quantities that their ranks were noticeably diminished, and the ones that remained were smart enough to move on to safer territory. That merging of population control and commerce has engineered perverse incentives – the mercenary killing of hogs is based on the misapprehension that hunting ranches are always teeming with them. The most important thing becomes keeping up that appearance, not necessarily ecological rehabilitation.

The upshot is that most ranches now have to import hogs from other regions to keep up with the demand. Pompi cobbles together a modest income as a trapper by selling his catches directly to large hunting outfits across the state, or to middlemen who inserted themselves in the supply chain.

Throughout the day at the shop, a procession of errant youth – hunting buddies and hangers-on – come and go, looking to glean some of Pompi’s ingenuity and charm. All of them tinkering with their trucks or some other mundane task related to trapping.

“We fix everything ourselves around here,” Pompi says. “Gotta keep the trucks running good so we can be out hunting every night.”

Every pickup truck is fitted with a dog box, every person can’t wait to show off his bank of smug trophy photos, or the hoof tracks tattooed on his arm, or talk about how personal circumstances have forced him to make a living in uncustomary, sometimes extralegal ways.

A black truck pulls into the shop. One of Pompi’s friends, Delvin, a doughy guy with red cheeks and khaki shorts sagging at his rear, climbs down from the cab. He has a live sow in his truck bed that he caught earlier in the day and plans to sell to Pompi’s rancher contacts. He runs his hand along the metal crate. It takes a sneering chomp out of the air. “Mean son of a bitch,” Delvin says.

A small crowd gathers around the truck, and, Pompi opens the tailgate without a second thought and yanks it out by the legs so everyone can get a look. The sound a wild boar makes when angry is horrifying – a low, resonant grunt mixed with piercing squeals. The hog bucks its hind legs and Pompi is forced to move with it. The two dance a little jig around the parking lot until he finds some purchase and flips the hog on to its back, pinning it with a knee. The crowd is pleased. The beast lets out one last resigned squeal, and then closes its mouth.

Feral pigs flummox Puerto Rico, infiltrate communities

New Zealand Herald

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Thousands of Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs are snorting and squealing their way across Puerto Rico in what many fear has become an unstoppable quest to eat and reproduce on an island struggling to stop them.

They forage through gardens and farms, knock over trash cans and leave pungent trails of urine and excrement, stopping occasionally to bathe if they find potholes full of rainwater. The former pets — or descendants of former pets — have reproduced at such an alarming rate that the U.S. territory declared a health emergency last year so federal officials could start eradicating them.

It’s the latest non-native species to invade communities in Puerto Rico like iguanas and caimans did before them, although these are proving particularly hard to control and can’t be killed for food because they carry so many diseases.

Crews from Georgia, Alabama and Florida helped remove 500 pigs in four days last August, but the swine are so numerous and scattered that officials had to reconvene and come up with a new plan they launched several weeks ago, said Gustavo Olivieri, Caribbean district assistant supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“It was out of control,” he said of the hundreds of pigs concentrated in just one impoverished area in Puerto Rico’s capital. “We realized there were way more animals than we anticipated.”

The problem started about five years ago after people began buying the pigs as pets without knowing they would grow to weigh 250 pounds or more. Olivieri said the pigs multiplied after Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017 as a powerful Category 4 storm because some escaped their confinement while others were set free by their families.

While there are no official numbers, Olivieri said he estimates there are now thousands of pigs roaming across Puerto Rico, with 67 of the island’s 78 municipalities reporting sightings.

He said that while feral hogs are a problem in the U.S. mainland, it is nowhere near the level of what’s happening with the Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs in Puerto Rico. There are no species of pigs native to the island, whose signature dish is arguably lechón asado, or roast pig, thanks to the Spaniards introducing the species in the early 1500s.

On a recent afternoon, pigs of all sizes rummaged through piles of garbage and mingled with roosters and dogs in Cantera, a neighborhood in the capital of San Juan that has long been neglected by the government. Broken glass clinked beneath the tiny hooves of baby pigs as they scurried about while sows stood their ground as nearby drivers slowed down, some smiling.

Community leaders said they understood the attraction that some people feel toward the pigs: “When they’re small, they look real cute,” said 31-year-old Valerie Figueroa, adding that some Puerto Ricans who live near the pigs use social media to give the littles ones away as pets.

So it’s a struggle to make people understand how much trouble they cause, she said as she opened a brochure that she created and printed herself titled, “Problems with garbage? Problems with pigs? If you answered Yes, this document is for you.”

Inside the brochure are pictures of a makeshift corral that fed-up neighbors have built to fence in the pigs and prevent them from entering their community. To residents who insist on feeding the pigs despite being told they’re extremely smart and will return to the same place for food, Figueroa encourages them to drop the leftovers off at the corral.

The problem goes beyond the smell and knocked-over garbage cans. Figueroa said her aunt tripped when one pig chased her and then bit her on the knee, which required surgery. Another neighbor, 52-year-old Jesús Laracuente, said they’ve invaded his garden, where he once grew pigeon peas, taro roots, tomatoes, pumpkins and coriander.

“All I have left is three little plantain trees,” he said.

A couple of blocks away, 36-year-old government worker Luis Meléndez fixed a flat tire in front of his home as a sounder of swine rooting across an abandoned park, flicking their short little tails.

He shook his head.

“They squeal all the time,” he said, adding that they don’t let him sleep. “They’re a disaster.”

The pigs start reproducing before they’re a year old, and they can give birth to up to 10 piglets at a time, Olivieri said. That’s a challenge, especially given their high survival rate, lack of natural predators on the island and willingness to eat nearly anything, he said, adding that they can’t be killed for food because they carry about 30 different diseases, including various types of herpes.

Given the animals’ intelligence, scientists tried a new approach after last year’s captures. They studied the pigs’ habits and behaviors and what kind of traps worked best. They did stakeouts in the field, noting that some groups of pigs were attracted only to corn while others were enticed by fruit.

The project to eradicate them could take a couple of years. Once the pigs are trapped, Olivieri said, they are taken to a facility owned by Puerto Rico’s Department of Agriculture and euthanized in a humane way.

That process has drawn sharp criticism from animal rights groups such as Women United for Animal Welfare, who decry the killing of pigs and demand they be relocated to a safe area until someone can find a home for them or a sanctuary can be built. More than 65,000 people have signed a petition backing such proposals.

Meanwhile, the president of Cantera’s neighborhood council says residents can only wait.

“We realized this situation had gotten out of control,” said Gertrudis Calderón. “It’s become a health problem.”

CTAHR Mid-December 2020 Events & Announcements

View Completer CTAHR Newsletter in your Browser


UH CTAHR Cooperative Extension Offices will be closed on the following day:
Friday, December 25th, in observance of Christmas
Friday, January 1st, in observance of New Year’s day


TODAY! 12/18 @ 2:30 pm – Maintaining Soil Health While Treating for Coffee Leaf Rust
From: Joan Obra
Vice President: United Ka’u Farmers Cooperative
Partner: Rusty’s Hawaiian and Isla Custom Coffees

RE: Zoom Meeting on Soil Health
Date and Time: Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, at 2:30 pm.

Since the arrival of Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR) in Hawaii, farmers have been told that maintaining healthy trees is key to fighting this pest. But tree health depends on soil health — and the copper-based fungicides for CLR pose certain challenges to our soils.

What’s a farmer to do? Join us for this Zoom webinar to discover good-management practices for copper fungicide use. You’ll hear a review of scientific literature about these fungicides and their residual effects. And you’ll learn about SOLVITA soil-respiration test kits, a tool that measures chemical and biological soil parameters. Your instructor is Dr. Melanie Willich, The Kohala Center’s Director of Applied ʻĀina-Based Agriculture.

Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Thank you,


Dr. DeFrank’s Air Layer Workshop Recording
Dr. DeFrank provided the Waimanalo Farm Crew with a hands-on air layer workshop on 12/10/20 and has provided a URL link below to 2 videos (classroom and hands-on training) and pdf of slides that details this air layer method and includes sources for various materials used. The mango and guava at the Waimanalo Station were at the perfect stage for air layering and the same may be true for your locations. He has been successful with mango, guava, cacao, longan and native Koa root suckers.

Air layer hands-on workshop at Waimanalo on 12/10/20:

Dr. Joe DeFrank
Ph: 808-225-1765


Kau Coffee Virtual Festival and Coffee College Webinars
Visit for all festival activities. These events will take place the weeks of Dec. 21 and Dec. 28.

The Coffee College presentations are being organized and additional information will be available at the link above.


Intro to Beekeeping Virtual Workshop – Saturday, January 16th, 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Interested in learning about beekeeping or know of someone that might but does not know where to start? NOW is the time of year to begin planning and becoming prepared looking forward to the upcoming beekeeping season! The California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBp) OC Bee Team will be offering VIRTUAL Beekeeping Classes throughout 2021.

The first of the series of SEVEN knowledge building science-based beekeeping classes, presented by the California Master Beekeeper Program OC Bee Team, is Beekeeping 001 Exploring Beekeeping beginning on January 16th. Follow the CAMBp website as new classes in this series will be listed.

BONUS: a 10% discount will be applied to individuals who sign up for the entire series!

Register: for this class

More information at:

Questions? Email:


ADSC Holiday Schedule

The Agricultural Diagnostic Service Center will be operating with a skeleton crew from Monday, December 21st through Thursday, December 31st. Analysis results that are normally available within 7-10 working days will be slightly delayed. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Happy Holidays from the Agricultural Diagnostic Service Center!


Coffee Samples for UH ADSC Submission
Per Hawaii County Administrator, Susan Miyasaka, NO coffee plant samples NOR soil from coffee farms will be shipped to UH Manoa ADSC [for diagnostics] – there is an inter-island quarantine.

Please contact UH Hilo to submit coffee leaf and soil samples.

For nematode, disease and insect IDs from coffee farms, and other questions or concerns, please contact Susan at (808)969-8258 or


Mahalo – 1215 Virtual Invasive Pest Mini-Conference

Thank you for attending 1215 Virtual Invasive Pest Mini-Conference 2020. It’s my pleasure to have you all in this meeting with some valuable talks on current invasive pest concerns, rapid responses and management efforts, and status updates/ new detections. Special thanks to the speakers – Teya Penniman, JB Friday, Kaili Kosaka, Koki Atcheson, Jane Anderson, Nate Dube, and Kevin Hoffman.

Here is the link to the mini-conference video just in case if you have missed this meeting. A chat note is also attached.

Announcement – Save a date for 02182021 Virtual Invasive Pest Mini-Conference on Feb 18 (Thursday), 2021. Please let me know if you are interested to give a talk in the 0218 Mini-Conference.

Wishing you a wonderful New Year!!



Live skunk captured on Maui

West Hawaii Today

A live skunk was captured Tuesday morning at a maritime container yard at Pier 1 in Kahului on Maui, the state Department of Agriculture reports.

The skunk was spotted roaming around in the container yard and reported to harbor security by a biologist surveying for stranded sea bird fledglings, the Department of Agriculture said. Harbor security personnel subsequently contacted the department’s Maui plant quarantine inspectors, who immediately responded, cornered and captured the animal around 8 a.m.

The Conversation: Update on Invasive Fire Ants

Hawaii Public Radio

Full show, Dec. 7, 2020 –

Treating Maui sites for invasive Little Fire Ants –

The Maui Invasive Species Committee is actively working eight sites where Little Fire Ant has been reported on the Valley Isle. We talked to Lissa Stroheker and Brooke Mahnken of the Maui Invasive Species Committee about the snapshot treating 150 acres in a remote area of Nakihu. Find more information at and at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture website. If you have seen Little Fire Ants, report it at or by calling 643-PEST.