Skeleton remains of animals left to die on Big Island - Photo courtesy of Tony Sylvester
Skeleton remains of animals left to die on Big Island – Photo courtesy of Tony Sylvester

BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – Imagine what it would be like if the Hawaii police force only protected native Hawaiians, and everyone else was subject to attack for being an alien.

That’s effectively what our wildlife police force, the Department of Land and Natural Resoures (DLNR), is proposing as the way to treat wildlife.
The DLNR only protects “indigenous” wildlife.  Introduced species, which means anything brought to Hawaii by humans, are considered undesirables.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) is wanting the power to put the hit on any introduced animals that the DLNR and its powerful stakeholders decide they don’t like.  Kill away, no permit required.  No reporting.  No environmental assessment or public review.  Just lynch ’em.
Section 13-124-7(a)5 of the Hawaii Administrative Rules is a newly proposed section entitled, Crop damage, nuisance, and threat to human health and safety permits.  It states, “When species of introduced wildlife or injurious wildlife are found to be generally harmful or destructive to agriculture or aquaculture, native plants or wildlife, or constituting a threat to human health or safety, the board or its authorized representative may authorize the destruction or control of the species in any area for a specified time period without requiring permits or reports.”
There are good reasons for permits and reports, which are required by this section for the destruction or control of indigenous wildlife, game birds, game mammals, and introduced wild birds.  The need for this oversight is that killing wildlife, even injurious wildlife, can harm the environment.  It depends on the number of animals destroyed, the disposition of the dead bodies, the methods used (which may include cruel traps , snares or poisons), and nontarget impacts.
These factors are required to be addressed in the permitting process and with monthly reports.   In addition, the permitting process also triggers HRS 343 and the need for an environmental assessment.  This allows for public input into the process.
But this does not apply to the destruction of introduced species.  The proposed rule change would not require a permit or report of impacts, and would allow any form of control ( poisons, traps, snares, guns, explosive devices-you name it) on any number of introduced species, over any area of land or water under DLNR authority without any public input, HRS 343 process, or review of the impacts over time.  This exposes the environment, public, and nontarget species to harm, depending on the scope and methods of wildlife eradication and control used.
Clearly, wildlife control and eradication is itself a destructive process that needs regulatory oversight including the permitting process and reports of impacts.  This is true, regardless of whether the species is introduced or indigenous.
This is also why an environmental assessment should be required for any wildlife destruction and control projects.  Our environment need an ecosystem management approach that considers the whole environment.  Killing off introduced wildlife that is part of the environment can cause unintended consequences, as when killing sheep and goats results in more grass and vines, increasing fires and smothering trees.
In addition, the proposed rule does not explain how the the BLNR will make the determination that a species has been “found to be generally harmful or destructive to agriculture or aquaculture, native plants or wildlife, or constituting a threat to human health or safety”.  This is arbitrary and capricious.  Who will make this decision?  Will there be public hearings for review of this determination?
Is it appropriate to generalize about species, and order their wholesale destruction, when they may not be harmful and may even be desirable in certain environmental contexts?
Of course, special treatment for indigenous species parallels the policy towards indigenous people, which is why this wildlife issue has political implications for everyone living in Hawaii.
In fact, the proposed DLNR rules give special privileges to native Hawaiians, allowing the  destruction of endangered species for cultural uses.  And according to DLNR, “Cultural use” only means use for traditional native Hawaiian practices.
If a species is threatened or endangered, should anybody be allowed to harm this species, regardless of their culture or history?   These species are being protected from extinction, and from the point of view of these species, the protection is needed from all humans, regardless of their cultural background.
And should cultural use only refer to traditional native Hawaiian culture?  Modern Hawaii is a mixture of many cultures.   And some of these cultures in Hawaii are reliant on hunting and gathering as a source of food.  Since the species they hunt and gather are introduced, and introduced species are potential targets for eradication, these rules threaten this peoples’ use of the environment to feed their families.
All cultural rights to using and enjoying wildlife must be protected and the wildlife managed to sustain these uses.  It should not matter if the wildlife is native or introduced.  It’s all our wildlife.
The double standard that the DLNR is using in its treatment of wildlife must stop.  For example, when it comes to killing indigenous wildlife, 13-124-7(b)3  states, “Permits to destroy indigenous wildlife shall be issued only after significant efforts to haze or non-lethally deter the pest animals have been attempted and proved ineffective.”  In other words, don’t kill them if it’s not necessary.  In contrast, introduced wildlife can be killed by any means, with poisons, snares, steel-jawed traps, helicopter shooting, starvation, dehydration, all without a permit or reporting process, by simply calling them “generally harmful or destructive”.
Of course, this brings to mind all the pain and suffering that these animals will feel as a result of the war on their species. The animals that could being destroyed without a permit or reporting could include deer, sheep, goats, pigs, cats, birds, lizards, frogs, fish and more.  Some of these animals are highly intelligent and social, and have lived for over a hundred years in our wild spaces.  It is their wild space, too.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with introduced wildlife.  It creates biodiversity, increases  natural resources, and makes Hawaii a more interesting and beautiful place to live and visit.  In the past, Hawaii’s open niches were seen as opportunities for introductions.  Now, the DLNR is going in reverse, eliminating the introductions to return to empty niches.  This naive and myopic approach to management has been shown to fail and produce unintended negative consequences.   And with climate change, who knows which species will thrive into the future.  The conditions in which indigenous species existed no longer apply.  Change is happening.
The indigenous/introduced distinction is political, not biological.  It’s part of a native supremacist agenda that recognizes native rights over immigrant rights.  It’s a combination of affirmative action combined with xenophobia.  And it affects everyone, not just wildlife.
To see the schedule of public hearings on these rule changes, go here: http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/blog/2013/03/20/nr13-023/

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