MAUI (KHON2) — The ever-growing deer population in Maui County is not only devastating the ranching industry, but it’s also threatening Hawaii’s natural resources, according to state officials. Researchers said, if we don’t get things under control soon, there will be dire consequences.

Maui County’s axis deer are beautiful animals, but don’t let that fool you.

Check out more news from around Hawaii

“I would say the axis deer are an existential threat to the Maui ecology that we know and love,” Gerry Ross, the owner of Kupa’a Farms on Maui said, “They’re just going to overrun us.”

Without natural predators, their population is exploding.

Jeff Bagshaw with the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife Maui Branch said they estimate around 60,000 deer in Maui county. But Bagshaw said there could be more.

And they are everywhere.

“The drought has accelerated this, but it was always coming,” Bagshaw said. “We were always headed toward this cliff.”

That’s because they eat indiscriminately often leaving the ground bare.

“A lot of our water is stored in the mosses in the small plants at ground level and on the trees themselves,” Bagshaw explained.

That impacts our watershed and weakens the soil. During big rains, the runoff ends up in the ocean, smothering the reef.

Gerry Ross’s family has operated Kupa’a Farms on the slopes of Haleakala for four decades.

“The original incursion of deer on our farm happened in the mid-1990s. And they decimated my father-in-law’s corn crop at the time,” Ross explained.

After that, they put up fences.

Ross said some of them do get in and he’s lost about $1,000 so far this year.

“We’ve had it pretty easy compared to other farmers who have no fencing,” said Ross.

Kyle Caires, Ph.D., a livestock extension agent specialist for the University of Hawaii Maui County said when you take the drought plus the deer, it’s a very difficult proposition if you’re in the livestock business.

Caires said the deer eat all the natural forage ranchers rely on for their cattle.

Multiple agencies are working to manage the situation. There is a Taskforce, and grants for fencing. DLNR is encouraging more people to apply for hunting permits in hopes of culling the numbers.

“We think that if we take 20 to 30% of the animals each and every year for the next 10 years, we can reach a population of about 20- 22,000,” Bagshaw explained. ” That’s a goal to keep it stable.”

According to Caires, the tipping point was a decade ago. He fears it’s a little too late as the deer are already deep in Maui’s watersheds.

“I don’t know if you’ve tried to un-cook an egg. But that might be an easier proposition than trying to depopulate deer once they get into those, those big gulches and ravines,” Caires said.

We’re Hawaii’s weather station, get the latest forecast and radar information here

The governor’s third emergency proclamation to help contain the axis deer crisis expires on September 20.