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Officials address Big Island hunting concerns

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 2:49 a.m. HST, Jul 29, 2014

KAILUA-KONA >> Officials are trying to balance conservation with access to hunting grounds as a federal agency prepares a plan for designating 19,000 acres of critical habitat in North Kona.

Representatives from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources met with a group of Big Island hunters and lawmakers over the weekend to discuss the federal agency's plans for finalizing a proposal within the next few months.

Hunters expressed concerns over shrinking hunting area and some Native Hawaiians called on the department to turn over management of the land to those who historically draw subsistence from it, West Hawaii Today reported.

Federal and state officials will examine state lands that are already under protection in the area, in an effort to reduce the area that will be under federal designation between Palani Road and Waikoloa to protect three rare plant species.

"We are looking to find a smaller footprint to work with," said Loyal Mehrhoff, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Islands office. "We're also working with private landowners to make sure they are doing conservation."

It's important to look at integrating state lands that are already closed," said William Aila, chairman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

He said the concerns from hunters about access to state lands are valid.

"I hear them," Aila said. "When I had more time, I used to hunt. It's not just a hobby; it's who they are and where they come from."

Hunting opportunities have been reduced on both federal and state lands and by private landholders fearing liability, he said.

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