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.
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,