Council Moves to Ban Shooting of Animals From Choppers
Despite being told that it has no such authority, the County Council voted Wednesday to ban the shooting of animals from the air.
The bill introduced by Chairman Dominic Yagong would make it against county code “for any person to engage in the eradication of any animal for any reason while being transported by helicopter, airplane, or any similar means.”
The bill is aimed at the practice by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to control ungulates, primarily sheep and goats on the slopes of Mauna Kea.
The bill said the practice is “not pono” and is “completely, and unequivocally, in conflict with the values of the people of the County of Hawaii.”
The council approved the bill on the first of two required votes despite being told by the state’s attorney general that the eradication efforts are mandated by a 1978 federal court order.
The court ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by environmentalists because the ungulates eat new shoots from the mamane tree which provide critical habitat for the endangered palila bird.
The letter from the attorney general said the council does not have the authority to enforce such a ban, a position with which the county’s top lawyer agreed Wednesday.
The vote followed testimony from hunters who said the meat from downed animals is often left to rot.
Hunters have long argued that instead of aerial shooting they should be allowed to hunt the sheep for sustenance. They also say that the eradication of the ungulates allows uncontrolled growth of grass which results in increased hazard of fire that threatens the palila’s survival.
According to hunting groups such as the Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group, a section of state law forbids aerial shooting of animals and does not include any provisions for the state to do so.
This isn’t the first time the council has criticized the practice.
In 2009, it passed a resolution — which does not carry the force of law — criticizing the DLNR for using sharpshooters aboard helicopters to eradicate feral cattle in a North Kona forest reserve.
The state said the action was necessary as part of a reforestation program because the cattle were eating young koa trees. State officials also said that firing from the air gives shooters a better shot than from the ground.
Despite the aerial control efforts, the number of palila on Mauna Kea continues to drop, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said in 2010.
Palila are also threatened by feral cats, and hunters told council members Wednesday that is partly because tall grass provides cover for the hunting felines.
The council on Wednesday also voted to approve a charter amendment that would establish a “Game Management Advisory Council.”
The purpose of the council would be to that would advise county, state and federal agencies on “matters related to the preservation of subsistence hunting and fishing, as well as protecting traditional and cultural gathering rights,” according to the measure proposed by Yagong.
Charter amendments initially require three votes of two-thirds of the council for approval, and are then put on the ballot for voters to decide.