SAVING HAWAII FOR THE PEOPLE: Pele Defense Fund Plans Lawsuit to Protect Hunting and Gathering Rights

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BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – Do people belong in the environment?  A class action lawsuit being prepared by the Pele Defense Fund may help decide that question.  At issue is conservation versus public use of wild spaces.

When we think of conservation, we are supposed to have a warm fuzzy feeling that we are protecting animals, plants, and special places from people.  People are apparently the bad guys, and saving nature means getting rid of the people – even if they have lived there for centuries.


The indigenous peoples of Hawaii are now being threatened by conservation.  Hunting and gathering has been practiced in Hawaii for generations as a necessary part of survival.  Now, the Hawaii government is planning the eradication of the wild food animals and the plants that feed them, all in the name of conservation.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of Hawaii’s public lands have already been fenced off from public use.  Only scientists and government workers have unlimited access to these areas.  Eight foot high fences keep out hikers, bird watchers, nature enthusiasts, hunters, and gatherers.  Meanwhile, nonnative plants and animals are being poisoned, shot, trapped, and eradicated.

Apparently, the wild sheep, goats, pigs, deer, and cattle are no longer considered food but “invasive species”.  The fruit trees and vines, such as strawberry guava and banana poka (a type of passion fruit), which feed the wildlife and people, are also considered “invasive”.  As a result, the people who have relied on these food resources for generations are in trouble.

Many of these people are of Hawaiian ancestry.  Many are not.  All share the common culture of hunting and gathering.  And now,  faced with declining wild food resources and an ever rising cost of living, they are finding it too expensive to live in Hawaii any longer.

Recent headlines announced the increased exodus of local residents to the Mainland.  They are being chased away in part by government conservation policies that place nature above people, trying to erase centuries of food species introductions that have been sustaining the local culture.

Why kill wild foods, especially when the Hawaii government advocates for food self-sufficiency for our island residents?  Perhaps it’s because the hunting and gathering culture, like the so-called “invasive species” on which they survive, is no longer welcome in the Aloha State.

Conflict between indigenous peoples and conservation is a longtime problem.   According to Dr. Peter Kareiva, head scientist for the Nature Conservancy, one of the biggest threats to indigenous peoples around the world is conservation and the removal of people from the land on which they live.

Here is some history.  (References at the end.)

Yosemite was occupied by Miwok Indians growing crops, white settlers raising sheep, and miners seeking gold and other minerals. Not long after John Muir, head of the Sierra Club, built himself a cabin and a water-powered mill he decided the other occupants had to go.  Muir vigorously backed the expulsion of the Miwok.  The Yosemite model spread to other national parks, including Yellowstone, where the forced evictions killed 300 Shoshone Indians in one day.

In 2009, journalist Mark Dowie published Conservation Refugees, which estimated, “About half the land selected for protection by the global conservation establishment over the past century was either occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. In the Americas that number is over 80 percent.”

Estimates vary from five million people displaced over the last century by conservation to tens of millions, with one Cornell University professor estimating that 14 million individuals have been displaced by conservation in Africa alone.

According to Kareiva, “In the early 1990s, indigenous groups spoke out against these evictions at various forums, including at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio. As a result, conservation groups pledged to respect and work with the communities living in or around protected areas…But by 2004, the conflicts had only increased. That spring, the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping resulted in a declaration signed by all 200 delegates that the “activities of conservation organizations now represent the single biggest threat to the integrity of indigenous lands.””

However, not all the people of Hawaii are buying their tickets to the Mainland just yet.  They are preparing to legally fight for their land.  The Pele Defense Fund (PDF) is raising $40,000 for a class action lawsuit to save the wild for the people, and preserve the hunting and gathering lifestyle that is the peoples’ right.

According to Palikapu Dedman, President of the PDF, “All funds received by hunters  and supporters will go to immediate use for a retainer or down payment  to the attorney who will file a class action law suit to stop immediate  fencing and eradication  of deer,  sheep, goats, pigs and cattle on DLNR lands including NARS (Natural Area Reserve System) areas. We feel there is strong evidence of traditional and customary practices that have been grossly neglected in the designated fence lands to date, including Department  of Hawaiian  Home Lands. These funds will be kept in a litigation account with PDF and only used as such. Let’s all stand together and protect the resources and life style of our island for our keiki’s future. Hunting and gathering are the same.  It is not just a right but our responsibility.”

Pele Defense Fund can be reached at:

P.O Box 4969

Hilo, Hawai’i  96724

(808) 315-9996


1. Kareiva, P., Lalasz, R., and Marvier, M., “Conservation in the Anthropocene” Breakthrough Journal, No. 2, Fall, 2011.

2. Dowie, Mark. 2009. “Conservation: Indigenous People’s Enemy No. 1?” Mother Jones, November 25.

3. Agrawal, A., and K. Redford. 2009. “Conservation and displacement: An overview.” Conservation and Society 7(1): 1.

4. Dowie, M. 2009. Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. Boston: MIT Press. 12.

5. Ibid.

6. Dowie, Mark. 2005. “Conservation Refugees.” Orion, November/December 2005.

7. Emerton, L. 1999. “Balancing the Opportunity Costs of Wildlife Conservation for Communities Around Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda.” Evaluating Eden Series discussion paper prepared for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

8. Curran, L.M. et al. 2004. “Lowland forest loss in protected areas of Indonesian Borneo.” Science 303 (5660): 1000-3; Naughton-Treves, L., Holland, M.B. and K. Brandon. 2005. “The Role of Protected Areas in Conserving Biodiversity and Sustaining Local Livelihoods.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 30 (1): 219-252.





  1. The overall point about all this is that if we don’t get a balance between the users of public lands, be it access for hunting, gathering, hiking, exploring and cultural education etc or preservation only, then we all loose.

    Maps and numbers that DLNR,NAR’s THC, Three mountain alliance etc use to justify that hunters have 600,000 acres of public hunting land available is nothing more then smoke and mirrors.

    Most of the land includes barren a’a lava fields and pahoehoe flows with ohia and uluhe which is a very poor habitat for quality animals. Nothing eats ohia or uluhe and much of this land is still young with no soil.
    The saddle road is a classic example. Much of the area between flume road and power line road is of poor habitat. Only the older kapuka’s are sustainable and that is where hunting is of quality and preservation is a competing force.
    Most other places at lower elevations are fenced off private property or limited access with no hunting unless you “know someone”. DHHL doesn’t allow the public to hunt. Most of the sheep seen up the saddle road is on their property and their solution is elimination through eradication.

    DLNR has never implemented a game management plan so how can we even begin to know what kind of carrying capacity that we have. According to the environmentalist me should have none, zero. That is the mentality that we have to work with.
    That would be like me as a hunter saying ” the carrying capacity is infinite”, kind a stupid yeah?

  2. To Nicolai,
    my husband works on Mauna Kea and sees the mountain every day for the past 20 years. He also hunted their for 40 years. The fireweed has spread up to the 11,000 foot elevation and now covers most cinder cones that never had vegetation. It is not a plant of any benefit and will not recharge the landscape. It depletes the native environment of water and nutrients. The Office of Mauna Kea Management is very concerned in the long term effects to the landscape that this plant imposes.

    The Mauna Kea forest reserve consists of 53,000 acres of which 100% of the goats and 99% of the sheep have been removed over the past 30 years and yet the palila bird population has and will continue to decline. In 2005 the birds declined 50% and in 2010 they declined another 75%. No goats since the 1980’s and less then 1% of the sheep are present.

    The environmental organizations involved in the palila bird project need to realize their mistake, owe up to it and address the real problems. Less then 10% of the critical habitat area is being utilized and the rest of Mauna Kea forest reserve is turning into a wasteland. Relocate what sheep is left in the area of Kaohe, thats the only place the palila habitat is anyway, fence off 20,000 acres in a none occupied area and put sheep back in that mountain. Focus time and funds on replanting and restoring 10,000 acres in the Kaohe and Pu’u Mali areas and be done with it.

  3. Hi Nicolai,

    Regarding the Bogs on Kauai… I am of the opinion, gathered to my resident three, by observation over 50 years of joining others in the forest and then from my own experiences, that lush forest areas for the most part, retain their general health even with the introduction wildlife. There are some compelling arguments as well, that pigs in particular, and to a lesser extent sheep and goats, are positive for the forest. I remember one weekend where the Pohakuloa Environmental team took a number of us on a tour of the entire Pohakuloa Area to witness the effort and particularly the destruction done by the goats and sheep.

    At one sharp curve, where the area funneled into a shallow ravine, there were a line of mamane that were in one case completely denuded of leaves… I’ve pictures of this… not one itty bitty little leaf, and the pronouncement by the lady leading the tour was that this mamane was now just a monument to what once was.

    Some time later, we were able to bowhunt Pohakuloa and just by happenstance, we chose to hunt the area called the “barrel”, just above Puuanahulu GMA (snicker). As we came to this particular hairpin, I was stunned. This Mamane had a come to Jesus experience, because there it was in irridescent splendor of thick foliage. I keep hearing of goats and sheep killing mamane, and maybe the very young this is true, but this plant survived what I’m thinking is a contnual browse of the well traveled route. Mauna Kea also has very sickly Mamane today, and I’m convinced that it is because of eradication, because when there were browse lines, the trees were very healthy looking… not so today.

    I think that animals overtime, become part of the biota. All animals have some sort of check in nature. The environmental community seems to think that nature doesn’t include man. This is what is Phony about their positions, like we are the aliens that don’t belong. If we want to protect an area, we can. But to say that introduced speicies don’t belong in new areas is to say that man is not part of evolution. Management is what is necessary and for us here in Hawaii, there is a very compelling reason to have strong healthy populations of meat animals, such as the pig, sheep and goats that can survive without management.

    Cooperative Game Management means that all constituencies have a stake in the outcome. It means that sustainable resources be managed into perpetuity, and it means equal access to the forests and seas for ALL constituencies with an equal voice and stake in the outcomes of the management.

  4. People are not the bad guys, nor are the animals. But it should be our responsibility to protect animals and their environment.

  5. The indigenous peoples of Hawaii are now being threatened by conservation. Hunting and gathering has been practiced in Hawaii for generations as a necessary part of survival. trophy bow sights

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