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.”