POSTED: 1:08 p.m. HST, Jan 23, 2014
HILO >> A Hilo Circuit Court judge has effectively dismissed a lawsuit filed by hunters challenging the state's plan to fence 12,000 acres of Big Island forest.
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported the judge granted summary judgment in favor of the state Wednesday.
The order effectively dismisses the lawsuit filed by the Pele Defense Fund and four other plaintiffs in 2012.
The state plans to fence about 20 percent of the 60,000-acre Kau Forest Reserve to protect native plant species and forested areas that store rainfall and replenish water supplies. The plan involves trapping and removing feral animals from within the fenced zone.
But hunters oppose the Kau Forest Reserve Management Plan because it would reduce their hunting grounds. The plaintiffs argued in their lawsuit that the state's plan doesn't properly take into account the impact of fencing on hunters and cultural practices.
Attorney James Dombroski says he expects to file an appeal either with the state Court of Appeals or directly with the state Supreme Court.
He told about a dozen supporters following Wednesday's court hearing that Judge Glenn Hara ruled the Department of Land and Natural Resources didn't make any procedural violations in completing its environmental assessment on the plan. Dombroski said this means the plaintiffs could still argue during an appeal the department erred by not conducting a more extensive environmental-impact statement.
"In any event, don't give up," Dombroski told the plaintiffs and other supporters.
Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila said in a statement the plan is meant to balance different needs, including cultural and recreational.
"We believe the plan does accommodate the needs of different communities in Kau," he said.
A department spokeswoman said in an email the plan was in the process of being implemented. It wasn't clear how much of the fence has been installed.
The state's 383-page environmental assessment identified 153 endemic plant species and at least 32 rare plant species in the reserve and surrounding area.
The management plan also considers the area a candidate for the reintroduction of the Hawaiian crow, an endangered species.