DO “LOCALS” BELONG IN HAWAII: How Invasive Species Control is Threatening Local Culture

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BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER –  For the thousands of Big Island residents who hunt and gather for subsistence, the Big Island is about to get a lot smaller.  The other islands are shrinking, too.  But it’s not a geological phenomenon.  It’s all political.

The Hawaii DLNR’s plan to fence off another 17 square miles of prime forest on the Big Island has brought hunters to the streets outside the DLNR early Monday morning to protest what they see as a progressive loss of their hunting grounds and a threat to their way of life.


Governor Abercrombie’s $110 million, 10-year The Rain Follows the Forests plan, focusing on replenishing Hawaii’s watershed, has targeted prime hunting grounds for a fence, weed, and kill campaign.

Areas are fenced and the sheep, goats, deer and pigs inside will be eradicated, along with the plants that feed them, such as strawberry guava and banana poka (a passionfruit variety.)  It is a forest make-over that pits conservationists against those who use these wild spaces to feed their families.

Local culture is a mixture of Hawaiian, Portuguese, Japanese, Filipino, Caucasian, and more, making locals as varied in make-up as the forests in which they have been hunting pigs and other game animals for generations.  As the environment has changed with the integration of immigrant species, so have the people.

The problem is that these species, once appreciated and introduced by the government for their food value and the need for food sustainability, are now considered invasive species and are slated for destruction.  This means the local culture, which has relied on these wild foods, is also feeling under attack.

Hunters have opposed the government’s plan to release an insect to attack the popular food, strawberry guava, which is not only a food for people but an important food for birds, pigs, and other game.  Rose apple, another important wild food, has already been decimated by a fungus which hunters suspect was released by the government since it, too, is considered “invasive” and feeds pigs.   Meanwhile, government eradication of sheep and goats has made hunting increasingly difficult.  And the recent proposal to declare much of the Hawaiian Islands as critical habitat for the endangered Monk seal will impact on fishing.

To those who feed their families from the land or sea, this environmental agenda feels like a direct threat to survival.  To a culture that relies on “invasive” species for food, an attack on the “invasives” is an attack on their culture.

Of course, the DLNR is supposed to be sensitive to cultural rights.  It realizes that hunters and their families will be impacted by the loss of prime hunting ground.

But the DLNR is ignoring the rights of local hunters.  Why?  According to the text of the Rain Follows the Forest plan, “Although ungulate hunting is a contemporary recreational activity and a source of food for some, hunting (pig hunting in particular) is not a traditional Hawaiian practice. Reviews of firsthand testimonies in more than 60,000 native Hawaiian land documents dating from 1846 to 1910 revealed many references to pigs, but nearly every reference was in the context of them being near-home and being cared for (raised), not hunted.

In other words, if the old Hawaiians didn’t do it, then it is not a protected cultural practice.  It doesn’t matter how many generations have been doing it since the old days.  If it wasn’t here before western contact or part of the culture before western contact, then it “doesn’t belong in Hawaii”.

Ironically, the DLNR is mandated to encourage hunting.  They are mandated to introduce game.  But the agenda has changed as the new environmentalism of invasive species control conflicts with old laws and ways.  The environment is no longer for using to our benefit.  It is for preserving as museums of the past.

Hawaii has been through numerous environmental agendas over the centuries that have redefined the use of these islands.  The local culture is now caught in middle of modern change.

In the face of these changes, locals are out of time, like a culture of the past.  Going into the forests and getting fresh and free food will be rare in the future, if eradication plans continue.   Instead, the lands and waters will be controlled, weeded and purged of aliens.  Food will only be in supermarkets for those who can afford it.  Alien species sympathizers, like the local culture, will have to change their ways, or move to the Mainland where the cost of living is cheaper.

Environmental justice refers to protecting the poorer segments of society when government plans are made to alter the environment.  The DLNR’s agenda of removing food from the forests is environmental injustice, and the local hunters protesting at 6AM in front of the DLNR office in Hilo know that.

They realize that their local culture is now on the invasive species hit list.





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