Hawaii conducts feral cattle hunt by helicopter
HONOLULU (AP)--At least one member of the Big Island's county council is angry that the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife conducted helicopter-borne hunts of feral cattle in mid-April.
North Kona Councilman Kelly Greenwell said the forestry division and its parent state agency, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, ignored a consensus against the hunts in a portion of the Honuaula Forest Preserve among council members worried about harm to the public.
But Paul Conry, administrator of the forestry division, said the helicopter hunts on April 15 and 16 were authorized by the board of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and were conducted only after safety measures were taken.
Generations of feral cattle have roamed the preserve, mostly the progeny of animals that escaped nearby ranches.
"They are a large animal that really is destroying the forest," Conry said. "They trample, they consume. They basically can destroy the koa forest by just constantly eating any of the regeneration that comes up, new koa seedlings trying to get established." Koa is a native hardwood tree that grows in the preserve.
There had been about 550 to 600 feral cattle within a 2,650-acre portion of the preserve, Conry said. Over the last two years, the division worked with a nearby rancher to remove about 400 of them with the use of traps. But more than 150 remained in fairly inaccessible areas, he added.
Moreover, a deadline on the use of a federal grant for koa reforestation was approaching, Conry said. So on April 15 and again on April 16, one helicopter with a rifleman flew over the area and took aim. On April 15, a bit more than 100 cattle were shot, Conry said. He did not have a figure for those shot April 16.
Before the flights, however, notices about the hunt was placed in local newspapers, signs were posted on the few access points to and trails within the preserve, and neighbors were notified, Conry said.
Still, Greenwell said the hunt disregarded the wishes of the council, which is in the process of approving a resolution that expresses fears that hikers or others could be injured in the shootings.
"I don't like the blatant disrespect by the DLNR," Greenwell told West Hawaii Today. "The county doesn't have force of law over the state. They have chosen to completely ignore (the resolution)."
Residents near Palani Ranch said the helicopter hunt began April 15 morning, with rapid fire shots that "sounded like Vietnam," the councilman added.
But Conry said the hunt is what the land and natural resources board directed his agency to do.
"We're following through with what our mandates are to protect and conserve our native forests," he said.