Axis deer hunter feels unfairly targeted
By TOM CALLIS
Shortly before Christmas 2009, a helicopter carrying four axis deer — three alive, one dead — landed on a Ka‘u ranch.
Its cargo, brought in a metal crate from Maui, was unloaded and replaced with several mouflon sheep for the return trip.
With the duct tape around their legs removed, the surviving ungulates needed little coaching to exit.
Sensing freedom after the interisland flight, they bounded toward the safety and familiarity of the nearby brush.
For the men involved, that moment marked the start of a new food source for hunters on the Big Island, long frustrated by state efforts to slaughter animals considered harmful to native plants.
But for state and federal officials who would discover their presence in 2011, the prospect of an invasive species here proved concerning.
The south Asian deer, already well-established on Maui, Oahu, Lanai and Molokai after being first introduced in 1868, have frustrated ranchers and farmers for generations but have been prized by hunters.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife investigation would later trace their Big Island introduction to a hunter from Mountain View, and a rancher and a pilot from Maui who arranged a sheep-for-deer swap between the two islands.
Eager to punish the act, yet unable to declare the deer introduction itself illegal, federal prosecutors successfully convicted the trio last month for possessing game animals without a permit and under the Lacey Act, which governs interstate commerce.
Each was fined and sentenced to community service helping battle invasive species or educate hunters.
Imagine higher agricultural yields, fewer invasive species, and a new economic product that’s as versatile as it is plentiful: venison. That was the vision of the founders of the Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Cooperative (MADHC), a new initiative organized by the County of Maui. Its goal is to help farmers, ranchers and landowners control invasive axis deer on their property while addressing food security with zero waste. MADHC members are a group of certified, trained, hunters who can provide harvesting services to those receiving damage from axis deer. The meat will be shared between hunters and landowners, and in some cases, local slaughterhouses will process meat for resale.
While the cooperative is already active on Maui, some Molokai residents are looking at the possibilities for the Friendly Isle — turning venison into a trademark specialty while helping out farmers with deer problems. Phyllis Robinson, one of MADHC’s founders and pilot coordinator, said it’s still early in the process, but her goal is to be able to incorporate Molokai and Lanai into the program.
“We’d like to plant the seed of awareness,” she said. “It could be helpful to have a coordinated effort county-wide but unique efforts on each island.”
Robinson said she has been in communication with Molokai axis deer rancher and hunter Desmond Manaba to explore the possibility of establishing an auxiliary board on Molokai to organize similar services on the island and be part of the cooperative umbrella.
Manaba, who has been deer ranching on Molokai for 18 years, said he sees tremendous potential economic benefit axis deer.
A federal judge sentenced two Hawaii hunters to community service today after an investigation into the interisland smuggling of axis deer by helicopter.
Neither man was charged with the smuggling itself, but prosecutors said their actions introduced axis deer to the Big Island for the first time and harmed the environment as a result.
Daniel Rocha of Mountain View on the Big Island was sentenced to 100 hours of community service for having sheep in his possession without a permit. U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi also ordered Rocha to pay a $1,000 fine.
Puglisi ordered Jeffrey Grundhauser to perform 100 hours of community service for taking an unlicensed hunter to shoot game animals on his ranch in upcountry Maui. Grundhauser must also pay a $15,000 fine and will be on probation for one year.
The deer were introduced to the Big Island as part of a trade in December 2009.
Rocha provided Grundhauser’s hunting ranch with about a dozen mouflon sheep that he raised at his small farm in Mountain View. In exchange, Grundhauser gave Rocha four axis deer from Maui that Rocha released on a private ranch on the Big Island.
HONOLULU – A helicopter pilot is pleading guilty to illegally flying deer from Maui to the Big Island, shedding light on a mystery that has been bewildering Hawaii: how did axis deer, an animal that can’t swim across the ocean, get to another island?
But now federal authorities say the people behind the scheme also took several mouflon sheep from the Big Island and flew them to Maui.
Neither axis deer nor mouflon sheep are native to Hawaii and don’t have natural predators here. Their presence has damaged fragile native ecosystems and farms on the islands where they’ve become established.
The alleged animal smugglers took the sheep to a Maui hunting ranch, and apparently didn’t release them into the wild. Even so, the sheep’s arrival on Maui for the first time deeply concerns conservationists who fear that the animals could escape or give others the idea to bring over more.
“Some of our most endangered dry forest community on Maui would definitely be negatively impacted if sheep got established on Maui. They’re already being impacted by the deer. The sheep would just be one more thing that was contributing to their demise,” said Chuck Chimera, a botanist on Maui involved in efforts to fight invasive species.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Song said helicopter pilot Thomas Leroy Hauptman flew four axis deer from Maui, where the animals were introduced in the 1950s, to the Big Island where they’re not established. He brought back about a dozen mouflon sheep with him to Maui from the Big Island.
Hauptman on Monday entered a plea of guilty in federal court to one misdemeanor count of illegally transporting wildlife,
A bill prohibiting having feral deer or releasing them into the wild was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Senate Bill 3001 was passed by the Legislature as a measure to prevent the spread of Axis deer.
The deer have thrived on Maui, causing an estimated $1 million in damage to farms, ranches and tourist resorts. There has been environmental damage on Molokai and Lanai as well. And recently on Hawaii island, they have caused damage to ranch grasslands, farm crops and plants that are vital to maintain watershed areas.
The new law aims to stop the deliberate spread of wild or feral deer and establishes penalties for the intentional possession or interisland transportation or release of wild or feral deer.
“It is imperative that Hawai’i’s environment and local industry be protected from the devastating effects that non-native species can pose to the health of our local economy and ecosystem, ” said Sen. Gilbert Kahele (District 2- Ka’u, Puna, Hilo), who introduced the measure. “This measure establishes the regulations needed to prevent the unwanted spread of Axis Deer so that our environment and businesses can continue to grow and prosper,” he said in a press release.
Before the problem gets any worse on Maui, Mayor Alan Arakawa should appoint a blue-ribbon axis deer panel to come up with a comprehensive plan on how the county can deal with the alarming increase of deer on Maui and the significant damage that is being done to our forests, farm vegetables, ecosystem and other vegetative life on the island.
The panel should include farmers, ranchers, hunters, environmentalists, government representatives and others who have been negatively impacted by these four-legged foreign invaders.
Because the problem is so widespread and a workable solution very difficult to achieve, the mayor is in the best position to bring together the necessary experienced people to come up with ideas on how we can deal with this growing menace.
Jimmy Gomes, operations manager at Ulupalakua Ranch, describes the problem (The Maui News, May 27) by stating that he’s seen a thousand at a time and has had to wait several minutes for a herd of deer to pass before he can ride through them on horseback. Gomes went on to say that gun club members and ranch employees have killed more than 1,000 deer on the ranch this year, but it hasn’t made a dent in their numbers.
Mr. Mayor, the county needs to take action now before it is too late.
William T. Kinaka
HONOLULU – Deer can swim, but not very far. When they showed up for the first time on the Big Island of Hawaii, mystified residents wondered how they got there.
The island is some 30 miles southeast of Maui, where deer are plentiful.
Hawaii wildlife authorities think someone dropped a few from a helicopter on the northern tip of the island. And tracks along the southern coast indicate deer were pushed into the ocean from a boat and forced to paddle ashore.
Whether they arrived by air or sea, wildlife managers want to eradicate them to avoid a repeat of the destruction seen on other islands where they ate through vineyards, avocado farms and forests where endangered species live.
Officials estimate that there are 100 deer on the northern and southern ends of the Big Island. A government-funded group is leading efforts to get rid of them before they breed.
“They didn’t get here by themselves, so the people who brought them over did so and have done it many times,” said Jan Schipper, the group’s project manager.
People have reported seeing deer on the Big Island for a while, but it wasn’t until a motion-sensor camera captured a photo of one last year that their presence was confirmed.
Axis deer, called chital in their native India, are similar in size to whitetail deer found in the continental U.S. Tigers and leopards keep axis deer numbers reasonable in India, but the deer population is growing 20 to 30 percent per year in Hawaii because there aren’t any natural predators.
The deer first came to Hawaii in the 1860s as a gift from Hong Kong to the monarch who ruled at the time, King Kamehameha V. They were first taken to Molokai.
In the 1950s, some deer were taken to Maui as part of post-World War II efforts to introduce mammals to different places
Hunters hired to control invasive species on Hawaii island have killed their first axis deer.
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Tuesday the deer was captured in the southern part of the island.
Big Island Invasive Species Committee Manager Jan Schipper declined to say specifically where the deer was killed to prevent interference with the committee’s two hunters.
The animal native to India and Sri Lanka was first introduced to Molokai and Oahu in 1868, Lanai in 1920, and Maui in 1959, but they hadn’t been found on the Big Island until last year.
Non-native mammals such as like pigs and goats already damage the island’s environment. But axis deer are a new type of menace in part because they’re so large they can jump over fences that are meant to protect native forests.
Lanai residents were miffed recently when a helicopter carrying a film crew “buzzed” a game management area on the opening weekend of the island’s hunting season.
Hunters from around the state and as far away as the Mainland flock to the island to pursue axis deer and muflon sheep, making the scheduled hunting weekends an important moneymaker for the island’s tiny economy.
“There’s over 200 hunters that come in,” said Lanai resident Christine Costales. “They pay big money to pay their way here. . . . They want to get their game, and when there’s a helicopter flying all over it spooks the animals away.”
The incident occurred on the weekend of March 17-18, which was the opening weekend of the Lanai deer rifle season, said Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward. After the department received complaints that a helicopter was “circling” the game management area, had descended near the ground and was “flying low and scaring the game away,” a DLNR officer on the island made contact with the pilot, Ward said.
She said the pilot informed him the crew was scouting locations for a TV show, and invited the officer to accompany them the next day to observe.