State officials are developing plans to remove axis deer in Hawaii County before damage becomes significant to ranch grasslands, farm crops and plants that are vital to maintain watershed areas.
“We will need to take quick and effective action to prevent costly and destructive impacts on the Big Island that will last for generations, perhaps forever,” said William Aila, director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Kahua Ranch Ltd. Chairman Monte Richards said axis deer can cause great damage to Hawaii island’s forest in Kohala and become difficult to remove once they’re established.
“The thing is to get to them early, and you’ve got a chance,” Richards said.
Richards said Hawaii island ranchers successfully fought against the idea of importing axis deer in the 1960s. He suspects the axis deer were illegally shipped to the island in recent years by someone who wanted the animal for game hunting.
State conservation officials working closely with trackers and using game cameras to survey areas in recent weeks have confirmed the presence of axis deer across the island, including in Kohala, Kau, Kona and Mauna Kea.
Molokai Properties Ltd. (MPL) is petitioning the Department of Agriculture (DOA) to designate about 5,000 acres of its west end grazing lands under a 99-year Important Agriculture Land classification. But that designation hangs in the balance as the state decides if ranching land qualifies for the zoning change.
If granted, Peter Nicholas, CEO of MPL, would lease the land to local rancher Jimmy Duvauchelle under a 20-year contract. Besides cattle ranching, the land would also host 4-H events and rodeos according the MPL propsal.
Duvauchelle, who said he has ranched west Molokai his entire life, currently owns Pohakuloa Ranch which is situated on 3,000 acres within the proposed designated area. The ranch employs about seven cowboys and other staff.
Duvauchelle also manages Diamond B Ranch for its Maui owner, Brendan Balthazar, also a lessee of MPL. The land designation would allow Duvauchelle to take over the 1000 acres of Diamond B Ranch which is also within MPL’s petitioned area.
Duvauchelle says he is confident that with the go-ahead of the proposed classification, he can double his herd from about 250 to 500 cattle.
A Scrutinized Review
Last week, the Land Use Commission and the DOA visited the site and discussed the designation’s merits with members of the public.