Major landowners in the eastern part of the Big Island have banded together to tackle trespassing by pig hunters who are accused of illegally tracking and killing pigs on private land.
Several landowners in Puna say illegal pig hunting on private land has been going on for many years, but the accidental shooting of a hunter last month might be the catalyst calling attention to the problem of patrolling an area close to the size of Oahu with only a handful of police officers.
Landowners are looking at hiring off-duty police officers to patrol the remote agricultural lands, said Bill Walter, president of W.H. Shipman, which owns more than 5,000 acres.
However, at least one longtime pig hunter, Steven Araujo, said those who hunt illegally are "a small minority" and that private landowners are more concerned about the liabilities surrounding hunting accidents on their property.
"Personally, when I see pigs on private property, I leave them alone," said Araujo, 50, who has been hunting since he was 15. "I always ask for permission. If they (property owners) don’t want me there, that’s fine. I believe in property rights."
Shipman acknowledges that landowners are concerned about the problems inherent in poaching on their property.
"You can imagine how unsafe it is to have a group of hunters roaming around your property on a weekend afternoon or quite often at night — some with guns, some with knives and most of them with dogs. It’s destructive to the crops. It’s destructive to cattle that are allowed to wander after gates are left open.
"For people in the area, it’s not safe having these people wandering about and hunting illegally."
On the other side of the Big Island, Kona police have begun to receive more complaints about illegal hunting in West Hawaii because the current dry conditions caused by the yearlong drought could be forcing wild pigs to migrate onto private property in search of water.
But a June 19 incident in Puna brought the controversy to the forefront. A hunter was accidentally shot in the chest by one of his four companions while hunting for pigs on the 2,500 acres owned by ML Macadamia Orchards, behind the Mauna Loa mac nut factory in Keaau.
Representatives from landowners, including W.H. Shipman, the Hershey Co. (the Pennsylvania company that owns the Mauna Loa Mac Nut processing plant), ML Macadamia Orchards, Ohana Banana Farms and Plant It Hawaii, met with Puna police to map out a strategy and find ways to supplement the police.
Puna police Capt. Samuel Jesma told the Star-Advertiser that "farmers and landowners have experienced numerous incidents of illegal hunting, criminal trespassing and thefts of farm products and equipment," which have increased over the past few weeks.
Landowners are not blaming pig hunters for agricultural thefts and the recent vandalism of 13,000 papaya trees in Kapoho on June 29, but say the incidents show the need to patrol the remote areas.
Ron Bachman, Hawaii district wildlife manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the problem has been aggravated over the past five or six years as more public lands where pigs used to roam and feed are fenced off to protect endangered plants.
"The pigs like the areas because they are safe from wild dogs," Bachman added, "and they come out at night to feed on the macadamia nuts that fall to the ground."
"There is less forest range for the animals," added Araujo, past chairman of the statewide Hawaii Hunting Advisory Council.
The vast acreage owned by Shipman and Macadamia Orchards is convenient for the hunters because of proximity to the urban areas of Keaau and Hilo.
Shipman President Walter said police do not have enough officers to patrol Puna. The problem is twofold, Walter said: "You have to catch and detain the person. You then need to get the police to the scene."
Randy Cabral, senior vice president of Macadamia Orchards, which owns the 2,500 acres in Keaau where the shooting occurred, agreed with police that the hunters have become more brazen.
"It has gotten so bad this past year," he said. "People are coming in on a daily basis, leaving beer bottles, drug paraphernalia and carcasses of animals just left hanging. There were even baby pigs hanging from a tree."
Cabral said he knew the hunter who was shot.
"We sent him three trespass notices," he added.
The 32-year-old suspect in the Puna incident is being held in the federal detention center in Honolulu after his parole was revoked because he was a felon who was not supposed to possess a gun. He also is being investigated for possession of 11.8 grams of marijuana buds and ammunition, which were found in his truck. The other hunters are facing criminal trespass charges.
Many of the pig hunters are "very arrogant," insisting they have the right to hunt anywhere, like their fathers did, Cabral said.