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Officials investigating theft of Kauai koa

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 11:55 a.m. HST, Oct 1, 2013

LIHUE » Authorities are investigating the theft of highly sought-after and valuable koa wood from state lands on Kauai, including Kokee State Park and Na Pali-Kona Forest Reserve.

The amounts taken vary, said Deborah Ward, state Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman.

Thefts appear to be increasing and happening in areas more visible to department officials and the public, Ward told The Garden Island newspaper.

She declined to say how much wood was stolen or what measures, if any, the department is taking to address the issue.

Ramona Costa saw large chunks carved out of a pair of koa trees when she returned home to Kauai from Maui this summer to spend a month in Kokee.

One tree was still standing, its trunk cut vertically to expose a dark red core. Fresh sawdust lay on the ground next to it.

"I held onto the trees and cried like a baby," she said.

Chipper Wichman, National Tropical Botanical Garden CEO and a member of the Kokee State Park Advisory Council, said there is very little to deter theft of koa, which is often used to make expensive fine furniture and crafts.

Unless a person is caught in the act, it is nearly impossible to prove the wood was harvested illegally, he said.

The real threat of koa theft on the mountain is from people who have an organized plan to haul substantial amounts, he said.

Officials have considered putting an entry station at Kokee and Waimea Canyon state parks that would collect user fees from non-residents as well as potentially enhance security and deter poaching.

But the revised master plan for the parks only called for such a station to be staffed during the day. The Kokee State Park Advisory Council also recently opted not to support an entry station.

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