MAUI (KHON2) — Traps, a bounty and aerial shooting, all tactics the state is using to control the deer population in Maui county. But is it working? Officials said the numbers are down, but there are concerns some methods may cause more harm than good.
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Axis deer were introduced to Molokai around 1868, a gift to King Kamehameha V.
They are beautiful, but they’re a nuisance, and with no natural predators their numbers exploded.
Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife Outreach specialist Jeff Bagshaw said they are threatening Maui County’s natural resources.
“The trouble is, upland, when they strip all the plants from the land, that means bare soil goes down and then it removes the first and largest food source that has ever existed in Hawaii, our reef fish,” Bagshaw explained.
The impact to local farmers and ranchers is equally as devastating.
“Especially for small farmers,” Bagshaw said. “If you’ve got just 10 acres and you’re growing a specialty crop and you can’t afford a big fence and the deer come through, that could be a year of zero income.”
Herds also pose safety issues for drivers according to Sen. Lynn DeCoite who represents Molokai, Lanai and portions of Maui.
“If a herd is running (across the road) they will keep running into your car, over your car,” DeCoite explained. “We’ve incurred a lot of damages in Maui as well as on Molokai.”
Efforts to manage the population are ongoing with millions spent every year.
Hunting is allowed year round in Maui County and is even encouraged. All you need is a hunting license and permission from the land owner.
While many, especially hunters on Molokai and Lanai, rely on the meat to feed their families, some are selling it for human consumption.
“There is a market for it,” DeCoite said. “There is a very high end market for it, as well. And it’s in high demand.”
But a limited number of USDA inspectors make it difficult.
“The folks who are doing it commercially, are paying for their own inspectors,” Bagshaw said.
Molokai resident and hunter Troy Tancayo doesn’t think the venison should be marketed commercially.
“I don’t like putting a market on our natural resources, because that’s how it’s gonna get depreciated,” Tancayo said. “Eventually, if we put a market on them and people start making money, and we do have another drought where more deer die off of natural causes, and we got people making money off them, they’re not going to stop when we need to stop.”
Bagshaw said the chances of eating all the deer is very unlikely.
“If each and every person who consumes meat in Hawaii, doubled their intake took in less beef. And we’re talking about 20 pounds of venison a year, we would not run out,” he said. “We can’t eat it all, quite frankly, we just cannot eat at all. There’s that much out there on the landscape.”
The state has even resorted to shooting the deer from the air to cull the herds.
“(Aerial shooting) is rarely used,” Bagshaw said. “We can do it on state lands, when we know there’s no risk of hitting humans or anything that humans care about. And also on private land, with some permission, you know, when they ask us to come in and help.”
According to Bagshaw they recently started using traps in urban areas and neighborhoods where it’s unsafe to hunt.
“The traps have big mechanical, automatic doors. There’s cameras,” he said.
The deer are lured inside with food and water.
“And when you think you’ve got a number that you want to harvest, and deal with you remotely through a phone app, dropped the doors. “
There are currently eight traps set on Maui.
DeCoite said it has been effective because “the deer will literally harbor themselves in areas they know you cannot shoot. “
Another program recently introduced: a tail bounty.
“We’ve had some (tails) turned in,” Bagshaw added. “They’re not always that effective for various reasons. It’s, you know, we’re trying to any, any kind of tool we can put in the box to incentivize people.”
Tancayo said offering a bounty for deer will cause problems.
“I really don’t think it’s a good thing,” Tancayo said. “Because we got a lot of young hunters that shooting a deer cutting the head off and leaving the body. Now we’re gonna get the young man to shoot in the tail. I was shooting deer and then cutting the tail off and a body. “
KHON: “Does it really look like all of these efforts are working?”
“I believe the efforts are working,” DeCoite said. “You don’t see them as often as we used to on the road, or at night. You don’t see that types of herds that we used to.”
Bagshaw said he thinks they cut the population by 30%, which is their goal annually. He estimated the population at around 65,000 and added “that’s about 45,000 too many.”
DeCoite said the axis deer task force will be meeting again on Maui in December to assess the situation and discuss their plans moving forward.