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Herds of axis deer continue to destroy land on Maui and Molokai

Axis deer are continuing to destroy land on Maui and Molokai and are venturing into higher elevation forested areas, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has reported.

“Axis deer are spreading further into the deep valleys and remote ridges, where they trample and eat plants. They spread invasive weeds,” said DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case via a department news release.

The DLNR said the forest around the airport at Molokai, which is “devoid of greenery,” cannot hold water in the soil after it rains, which leads to excessive runoff that ends up in the ocean and to nearby coral reefs. The land department said during the heavy rainfall last month, “chocolate brown” water extended hundreds of feet into the ocean along Molokai’s south shore.

The overpopulation of axis deer has affected farmers and their land the most, the department said.

James Espaniola, a forestry and wildlife technician with the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said via the news release that herds of the axis deer can leave areas void of vegetation.

“Cattle ranchers have been the hardest hit,” Espaniola said in a statement. “They do their part in rotating the use of pasture lands to prevent overgrazing by moving their cows around. Unfortunately, the deer remain, and they devour any living vegetation, which doesn’t allow for plant regeneration.”

DLNR’s ongoing effort to control the overpopulation of axis deer include its participation in the Maui Axis Deer Task Force; use of funds for more fencing, harvest and watershed protection; and permits for hunters and possible hunting agreements with private landowners.

The department said that fencing is one of the most effective ways to keep the deer out of forests. About 111,000 acres of Maui Nui is fenced, but the DLNR and its partners are retrofitting fences to be taller so that the deer cannot jump over them.

Kahoolawe is the only island in Maui Nui that is free of deforestation caused by ungulates.

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