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State fails to get aerial hunting exemption

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HILO » A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to exempt state employees and contractors from county and state laws banning aerial hunting.

Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara said Wednesday that state law doesn’t specifically provide an exemption for the state from the aerial hunting ban, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. He said the attorney general could "go to the Legislature and create an exemption."

Hara’s ruling thwarts state plans to hunt sheep, goats, pigs, cattle and axis deer on Mauna Kea from the air outside the critical habitat of the endangered palila bird.

The state may hunt mammals from the air inside the palila habitat under a 2013 federal judge’s ruling.

Deputy Attorney General Michael Lau said the state will evaluate its options. Alternatives include appealing the ruling and proposing legislation allowing aerial hunting beyond the palila habitat.

Scientists say the palila songbird — a species found only on the slopes of Mauna Kea — is facing possible extinction as its population dramatically declines. A 2010 U.S. Geological Survey study estimated there were only about 1,200 palila birds left.

One problem is that grazing sheep and goats have been devouring the slow-growing mamane trees that palila birds rely on for food.

Lau said the state needs to hunt the animals from the air because it’s unable to remove them solely by hunting them from the ground. He said the state wanted to prevent the mammals from migrating into the palila’s habitat.

Tony Sylvester, a member of the county’s Game Management Advisory Commission, said he was pleased with the ruling.

"Now our homework is to work with the legislation to make sure that we can uphold the law and that changes are not done in the legislation session (next) year," he said.

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