It has just been revealed by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) that Hawaii’s wild food resources, including sheep, goats, and pigs, are deliberately and inhumanely being denied water, causing untold suffering, disease, and death, made worse by current drought conditions in many parts of Hawaii.
This is a tragic abuse of animals and a waste of an important food resource.
Depriving Hawaii’s wildlife of water is more than cruel. Many people in Hawaii rely on hunting to feed their families. On the Big Island, for example, hundreds of thousands of pounds of meat are harvested each year by hunters. Many of these people who hunt are in poverty. This means that a reduction in the numbers of these animals harms these people disproportionately, making game animal management a social equity issue, in addition to an environmental and humane issue.
Native resources are also damaged by animals who leave Game Management Areas in search of water. Some of these animals will damage trees by seeking water in bark, while others will go to roads and highways looking for water, creating a traffic hazard.
Fortunately, the DLNR has the ability to remedy this problem.
Unfortunately, the DLNR is the cause of the problem, deliberately keeping empty watering units that had once served this very purpose, at a time when the DLNR cared about protecting and supporting these animals.
In some places, there are watering units still kept full for birds, but these are fenced so no land animals can drink. Families of goats and sheep are literally dying of thirst outside a gated watering unit.
The DLNR is mandated by Hawaii Revised Statute 183D to properly manage and support game animals. Game Management Areas have been designated for these animals to live, and provide hunting resources for the public. According to the law, the DLNR is even supposed to introduce and propagate new species for hunting. And as a positive side effect, fire hazards are reduced by having grazing animals controlling weeds.
But about a few decades ago a new mandate was given to the DLNR. Native resources were suddenly deemed more important than food resources, and these same animals were suddenly labelled “invasive” for their potential harm to native ecosystems.
This means the DLNR has duel, contradictory mandates which require that they both protect and kill Hawaii’s non-native wildlife. However, they have forgotten their older mandate to protect, and now promote the destruction of these animals, even by depriving them of water.
There is no excuse for this reprehensible, inhumane, wasteful, and depraved attack on wildlife by the DLNR. There can be both fenced and protected native ecosystems as well as Game Management Areas where wildlife can have ample food, water, and space to live and raise their young. Keeping game animals happy and healthy keeps them where they belong, and avoids unnecessary damage to native resources as they search for water and food.
It also means greater food security and social justice for Hawaii’s residents who still practice the traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering.
This point is particularly poignant given food insecurity worldwide, caused by inflation, the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. President Biden has publicly warned the US about looming food shortages and high prices. Having sheep, goats, pigs, and other wildlife is food in the bank.
It is clear that social justice, animal justice, and legal justice demands that the DLNR care for these animals, and immediately provide them water. Empty watering units can easily be refilled. Adequate food must also be available for these animals, who have been limited to low quality environments that currently suffer from drought.
Hawaii can have both native resources and food resources. The DLNR needs to better balance its dual responsibilities and stop being the worst enemy of Hawaii’s wildlife.
There is currently a Bill, HB1872, being considered by the Hawaii Legislature. It’s purpose is to reaffirm the value and benefit of game animals in Hawaii, and remind the DLNR of their responsibilities. It’s scheduled for the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, April 5.