Deer on Maui airport runway heightens safety issues surrounding deer overpopulation

Local News

KAHULUI, Hawaii (KHON2) — A deer on the airport runway is the latest issue facing Maui County as they continue to grapple with the overpopulation of axis deer causing health and safety issues.

Imagine being at an airport and seeing a deer on the runway, which is exactly what is happening in Kahului, according to Sen. Lynn DeCoite (D).

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“It happened about two months ago; there was a first sighting of it,” DeCoite explained.  “I think, maybe twice, three times, that I know of that the deer has been there. But one time is one time way too much. Especially this one time, it was standing in front of a 747 taxiing down the runway. That just blew me away.”  

With the fence lines around the airport also getting damaged, DeCoite said supply chain issues are making it harder to get proper materials. So for now, quick fixes will have to do.

“It’s a kind of like a black mesh fencing that is being put up temporarily,” DeCoite added.

“The axis deer are threatening the safety, health and welfare of our residents and visitors on Maui. I’m extending the disaster declaration to enable the state and county to handle the axis deer problem as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

DAVID IGE, HAWAII GOVENOR

The deer do not only encroach on the Kahului airport, but they also caused problems on roadways.

Patricia Hammond, a Molokai resident, was driving along the main highway when hundreds of deer started to cross in front of her car.

“I’ve been (on Molokai) 35 years and I’ve never seen deer herds like this,” she said. “I don’t know how many people have told me that a deer just ran into my car.”

“We incurred over 100 accidents. Why you should care is because some of those were air (evacuations),” DeCoite said. “We don’t have the resources that we want to have. We don’t want to be a part of the problem by filling the hospitals on Oahu, as well as Maui.”

Severe drought and overpopulation came to a head in 2020 as deer started dying of starvation.

“It was so bad, flies, the smell. You couldn’t walk outside. It was like, it was apocalyptic,” explained Hammond.

Since then, the county awarded $775,000 to multiple groups for population management. Hammond said it helped — a little.

“It appeared that it was under control because they killed a lot of them. And then, of course, it rains now they have something to eat. So, they’re just not as present in town,” Hammon continued.

Another $635,000 will be awarded in 2022 to cull the population even more.

DeCoite said they need to ensure there is a balance. On the other hand, the deer provide food for many residents.

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“At the same time, the concern should be with an abundance of axis deer, you deal with environmental issues. You deal with erosion, you deal with runoff, you deal with the runoff suffocating our reefs.  It’s just a trickling effect that then puts more hardship and burden on a small little island like Molokai,” DeCoite explained.

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