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State sues Hawaii County over aerial hunting ban

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  • Courtesy: DNLR/Eric Nishibayashi
    The state is developing a plan to remove axis deer from the Big Island because of concerns that the invasive mammal could damage native ecosystems.

HILO >> The state of Hawaii and Hawaii County are going to court over the county ban on aerial hunting on the Big Island.

The Office of Attorney General David Louie last week filed a lawsuit in Hilo Circuit Court seeking to exempt state employees and contract hunters from the 2012 county ordinance prohibiting aerial hunting, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

Eradication of feral sheep, goats, swine, cattle and axis deer is necessary to protect habitat, according to the lawsuit, and state officials want to kill unwanted species from the air.

Violating the county ordinance can bring a sentence of up to 90 days in jail or a fine of $100.

State attorneys said in the lawsuit that state and federal law pre-empt the ordinance. A state law prohibiting hunting from airplanes does not apply to hunters used by the state to kill feral ungulates.

Craig Masuda, deputy corporation counsel for the county, said Monday the county had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.

A federal judge in April 2013 ruled that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources could continue aerial shooting of animals grazing on the critical habitat of the endangered palila bird on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the island.

The state wants to resume aerial hunts of feral ungulates elsewhere “to preserve forested watersheds, native ecosystems and endangered species,” according to the lawsuit.

The state in December asked County Prosecutor Mitch Roth to not prosecute state employees and private contractors taking part in aerial animal hunts. The prosecutor decline to sign an agreement, according to the lawsuit.

Hunters have pushed the aerial hunting ban to protect a dwindling population of game animals. They say aerial eradication is wasteful because animal carcasses are generally left to rot.

Tom Lodge, chairman of the Hawaii County Game Management Advisory Commission, said the state is “disrespecting one of its own rules” by not adhering to the state ban on aerial hunting.

“If you buy into this argument that they’re (non-indigenous hooved animals) not supposed to be here, well, they’re here now and they’re a resource. Everything we have is a resource,” he said.

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