Thursday, March 8, 2012

FIRST TIME SPECIES CONFIRMED ON ISLE

BY LOCAL SOURCES

State officials on Friday confirmed axis deer sightings on the Big Island.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Forestry and Wildlife and resource managers on Hawaii Island said the deer, which have established a large population on Maui, has been introduced to the Big Island. The sightings were in areas of Kohala, Ka'u, Kona and Mauna Kea.

"We are now expanding our surveys of areas where deer have been reported, and are developing a response and removal plan," DLNR Chairman William J. Aila said in a statement. "We consider this a serious problem with far-reaching economic and environmental impacts to the agriculture industry and native ecosystems on the island."

DLNR, working with the state Department of Agriculture, Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC), federal natural resource management agencies, ranchers, farmers, private landowners and concerned citizens, hope to protect the island from the damaging ungulates that threaten the island's environmental character.

The BIISC heard from ranchers, land owners and concerned residents from several locations on Hawaii island that they are seeing unusual game animals. BIISC is working with trackers and using game cameras to survey and confirm the animals' locations.

"We take all of these reports very seriously since there are a number of mammal species present on neighboring islands that could do serious damage to agricultural industry on this island," Jan Schipper, BIISC program manager, said. "Ranchers and farmers have already expressed their concerns to me that deer and other species that are suspected to have been illicitly introduced on the Big Island would destroy their crops and possibly introduce new diseases to our island, as has happened on other islands."

Besides agriculture and public safety concerns, conservation agencies are particularly concerned about the impact to forest and native ecosystems and threatened and endangered species. There are no fences on Hawaii Island that are tall enough to keep deer out. If deer become established, fences on the island would have to be raised to 8 feet. Retrofitting the more than 300 miles of fences could cost tens of millions of dollars, state officials say. Farmers, ranchers and public safety officials would also need to install fences to protect crops and to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.

Aila vowed to take quick and effective action against the deer, which were first introduced to Molokai and Oahu in 1868, Lanai in 1920, and Maui in 1959. They were never historically introduced to the Big Island.

DLNR asks Big Island residents to report any sightings of deer or any other unusual new or introduced mammals anywhere by calling the BIISC hot line at 961-3299 or emailing Schipper at gjs@hawaii.edu. Callers are asked to provide their names, contact information, an estimate of how many deer and the location where they saw the deer.

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Just tell me where they are and I'll take care of them with my trusty bow!

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