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. It’s about time we started to make our voices be heard through Lawsuits. It’s the only way that they ( The State and Federal Government) will have to do what is fair and just for the Indigenous People of Hawaii.

    PS: Will start things Going On Kauai

  2. Thank you Sydney Singer for another manipulative, inaccurate, fear-based article. The old saying goes: it is more productive to be for something than to be against, and that said, hunters would be much more effective in petitioning to be part of the solution- rather than against a solution. There is ample room in Hawaii for 1) sustained yield game management on lands where native ecosystems are already gone, 2) increased hunting opportunities where practical to control animal numbers for healthy forest and watersheds, and 3) preserves where native forests and wildlife are allowed to thrive and recover without non-native threats. The later makes up only a few percent of Hawaiis land mass today and may in the future represent as much as 10%. It’s even been mapped out in DOFAW’s draft management guidelines (you can google it). The governors Rainfall Follows the Forests is another plan, but is also ripe with fear mongering and inaccuracies. 10% is not a whopping number IMHO and allows hunting to continue on 90% of Hawaiis landscape, both public and private. Is that number not large enough???????? Everybody knows that there are more game now in general than ever before (still overabundant in many places!), so the idea that game is scarce is based on a few cases on the Big island where large protection programs in national parks, Mauna Kea, and Pohakuloa Military base removed animals from areas that were either popular hunting areas with easy access or had lots of game. Many hunters (not all) wanted sustained yield of lots and lots of animals in ways that were not always sustainable to the native habitat that they were living in. High yields makes happy those with the trophy hunter mentality, or even thrill seekers and beginners, but goes counter to that of the meat hunter, who may value a better eating animal that comes with better habitat. We were taught about carrying capacity in our Hunters Safety Course many years back. Remember that as animal populations decline, habitat quality improves and becomes more resilient. And call me an optimist but I am confident that hunting will continue to be an important management tool on these 90% of lands that will always have hunting. I even fight for it, but I must also fight to do what is right for the land part of which means protecting our native treasures with fencing. There is plenty of room for both.

    The underlying problem here is not a scarcity of game or hunting opportunities but rather one of ACCESS to them. Loss of access is a major problem in Hawaii today, not only for hunting, but for all outdoor activities. Reduction of sheep on Mauna kea, is considered to be a loss of hunting opportunities. Really, it shouldn’t. When I walked around there, I still saw sheep. …just not in the hundreds. Habitat is rebounding on Mauna kea with the help of an unlikely allie: the invasive fireweed, which appeared to re colonize a lot of eroded areas that native plants were having a hard time healing up. It will also help conserve water across the landscape. The fireweed will eventually diversify with native and non-native plants and become less significant. The same goes for the invasive elephantopis weed in kauai’s Na’pali coast, now re diversifying with natives and ferns.

  3. Are you sure Nicolai? Between DOFAW protected lands, the US Department of Defense, the US National Parks Service, The Nature Conservancy land, The Dept. of Hawaiian Home Lands (which is targeted for eradication), and the US Fish and Wildlife service, 90% of land for hunting seems a large exaggeration. Much of the land designated for hunting is the worst land for hunting. Land void of much of anything. Furthermore, Singer was just making a report of a lawsuit coming from the Pele Defense Fund. That is not manipulation or inaccurate, it is the fact. He has no personal connections to that organization.

    • Counter current, I’ll stand by those numbers. I’ve seen all the maps. Heck, i’ve even helped plan some. …although that “Rainfall Follows the Forest” plan suggested some huge areas for potential fencing. The reality about managing native forested watersheds with fences is that 1) it is expensive to plan/build/maintain, 2) politically sensitive with hunters and animal welfare advocates, 3) challenged by physical terrain and remoteness, and 4) priority is given to intact native forests. Most areas are not realistic to fence and the conservationists must choose their battles. Many are not good at making these decisions and make serious political blunders that alienate and agitate the hunting community. The Big Island has a lot of land mass behind fences- more than the other islands by far with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which promotes native wildlife over exotics for their park users.

      I’ve known DHHL and KS to fold or stall when it comes to fencing because they are easily swayed by public opinions from a loud minority of local hunters. But native Hawaiians believe in conserving native ecosystems just as much as anyone else (or more so) and people’s attitudes are changing to something more balanced. After all, these plants are part of their culture. Get plenty of room to have pigs here and native plants there- typically deep mauka where it’s not as valuable as a hunting area because of remoteness or terrain and the forest is in better shape. Again, things are different on BI where the native forests are so vast and so much of it is accessible. It’s a recipe for controversy.

      I’ll agree, some of the non-native areas are the worst areas for hunting. Or rather, that the native forests are the BEST habitat for game animals because all the plants are so palatable and the remoteness makes for low hunting pressure and high animal numbers. And that’s what makes them vulnerable. But on a case by case basis, other areas designated for hunting are very good habitat with valleys full of diverse fruits and vegetation that pigs can eat. Habitat improvement is very easy by simply decreasing animal numbers until forage improves. Kalalau Trail on the Na’pali coast is a great example of this going on. The habitat is rebounding wonderfully and the remaining goats even have fat on them! Mokihana Ridge on Kauai-almost exclusively non-native- is one of the most productive GMAs around. Everything there is edible. Pig habitat can be improved by introducing avocado, breadfruit, mango, jackfruit, macadamia, and other fruit trees of low invasive risk.

      Didn’t mean to imply anything negative about Pele Defense Fund. But I do think they should pick their battles.

      • Nicolai, this idea that we have thousands of acres of hunting lands in Hawaii is a myth. We have a forest system which is laced with fencing and restricted access. The Watershed Partnerships that are being promoted are nothing more than a confiscation of our forest lands from access and use by the peoples of Hawaii. The Idea that Hawaii can survive only with “native” plants and fauna is another clear deception foisted upon the “makaainana” . The environmentalist has so co-opted the language and the direction of the care of the lands of Hawaii that the people’s ability to save even a thread of the fabric of local life is imperiled .

        For one thing, most of our “wild animals” which are part of the rightful resources of Hawaii, were provided to the people by the King, not the Sierra Club or DLNR. It is the height of arrogance by the environmentalist, bent solely on land use policy and control, to suggest that the animals here don’t belong here. It is also the height of conceit to think that they know best, when all that they have touched on a wholesale scale has failed or was never meant to succeed in the first place. Sensational? Let’s see, Mauna Kea and the Palila, PTA, Waiakea Forests, most of the NARS, and the complete abdication of the DLNR of complementing their constituencies. They are totally weighted towards sucking Federal Dollars to promote their Bureaucracy, at again, the expense of the “makaainana”.

        The answer is Cooperative Game Management with all the stakeholders working together. This, because of the position of the Environmentalists and the DLNR, will never happen. They would ruin our forests, steal from the people and leave our lands in a shambles.. and face it, look at most of the areas that they have taken over, from the bogs of Kauai, to Puu Makaala, a wasteland of weeds and invasive species…

        By the way, Jon Giffin, now with the Nature Conservancy and previous DLNR Chief on the Big Island, did an extensive study of pigs, you know the meat staple of the Hawaiian, the Deity Kamapua’a? The basis of the Ahupua’a? He reports that in areas of lush forest, that the forest will sustain 1 pig per roughly 10 acres. In more sparse areas of native vegetation, it was 1 pig in 26 acres. It is funny to recall that when the massive outcry from the Environmentalists was raised about the pigs destroying our forests, that the pristine areas that they delineated as deserving protection, were infested with pigs… They now use the term, native ecosystems. It is all about the words, not the substance. This is why Hunters, Gatherers, and the people of Hawaii need to seriously challenge the Environmentalist and specifically the DLNR as to their mission, success, and science. They have failed in all those areas so far.

        The environmentalists have so completely buffaloed the native community, that they don’t even mention the pig anymore. This is sad. To allow an alien agenda to change the culture of Hawaii is really painful.

  4. Post note to Nicolai…

    Cooperative Game Management means working with all stakeholders providing for the care of the land. You suggest planting avacado, as an example. Here on the Big Island, Banana Poka in a HUNTING AREA… Piha and Laupahoehoe forest reserves, was killed off by the introduction of a biologic. One casualty of this was the I’iwi which loved the nectar of the banana poka flower. We have a crow that loves coffee… are we planting coffee plants in Waiakea Forest, where the environmnetalist wants to release the Alala? And when they do, how much hunting, hiking, exploring will be allowed to the “common” man…

    You say that Kam Schools don’t fence? Are you KIDDING? They are right there at the forefront along with the National Parks, NARS, and Forestry. And cooperative Game Management requires treatment equally allocated to all parties. You know, or should know, that you cannot use federal dollars to enhance game, thanks to the Environmentalist and DLNR abdication to the LEFT!


  5. Great article Syd. The hunting and gathering community, Hawaiians, locals and Malahini alike thank you for bring these issues to light. We have gotten thousands of signatures over the past month all in support of what PDF and their foot soldiers like you have been working on. The message that we will be carrying is one of “PONO, BALANCE and DIALOGUE”. mahalo!

    Nicolai Barca works for Nature Conservancy, and unfortunately has been trained well by a system that does not comprehend such principals “PONO, BALANCE and DIALOGUE”.

    Such talk like “how good fireweed is”, shows the level of unbalanced thinking that organizations like Nature Conservancy has and its scary to think that people like this is protecting our Aina. Fireweed is one of the worst invasive plants in Hawaii and will change the landscape forever. It will never go away and native plants will never be able to compete with invasive plants. A ten year study that was done in PTA just proved this.

    Just the same removing ungulates from our forest will require agents to go in and spray poisons in our watershed to kill invasive plants. Yummy! poisoning our watershed to protect our environment.

    Welcome to a “New Day in Hawaii”

  6. Hi Michelle,

    You are correct that I work for The Nature Conservancy and I love my job and the people I work with. Great people doing very difficult and rewarding work for not much money. It’s the kind of job where you have to love it.

    Don’t get me wrong, because there are some very bad invasives weeds out there right now but I think it is important that environmentalists don’t knock off ALL invasive plants as being all bad, because a lot of them have very beneficial properties. Even fireweed, but I could be wrong. Thats just a theory of mine based on what I’ve observed in nature. Natures remedy for overpopulation of browsers is to increase the composition of less palatable plants. But most native plants in Hawaii are highly palatable. Unfortunately, it is non-native plants that are filling this nitch. But what will happen is over time the fireweed will be aging and getting gaps, nutrient deficiencies etc. Native seedlings will be right there and hidden from the sheep, NATURAL SUCCESSION will occur. This is more likely the less sheep there are. You can go up there today and observe this on the slopes of Mauna kea by Kaohe horse pasture. They might eventually supress the fireweed with shade, but fireweed will always remain. Plus there is a biocontrol effort going on. The cattle guys are pretty happy about it and I think they plan to release it soon.

    I’d like to see the ten year study at Pohakuloa, do you have a link? Otherwise I’ll try google it. I haven’t gotten the chance to observe fireweed on newer lava flows.

  7. Rattus58,
    Loved your post. I never said Kam schools don’t fence. But I think we should be realistic in how much of their lands they do fence. Correct me if I’m wrong but Kauai: 0% to date. Oahu: 0% to date. Molokai: 0% to date. Maui: …i actually dont know. Is the Koa reforestation on Leeward Haleakala KS? Big Island: you seem to know. Can you enlighten us?

    And we seem to be in disagreement to the benefits of eradication and biocontrol. I believe that the Aerial shooting of sheep, as wasteful as it was and as much of a slap in the face to hunters, I believe it saved the Mamane-naio forest of mauna kea by allowing it to regenerate. It’s unfortunate that whenever I talk to environmentalists, they believe it still isn’t enough and that the whole place need to be fenced and every last sheep killed. I doubt most of them even walked around up there. I only walked around a few times, so whatever I said is based off that and I could be completely wrong. I’m just sharing what I observed and what I interpretted. I also seen a bunch of sheep. Had I been hunting, I’d of had a good day.

    Banana poke: feeds birds but also also degrades their habitat in other ways. A little is good. Too much is bad. On Kauai, the biocontrol (a leaf spot fungus that some claim attacks lilikoi too) reduced banana poka to 4% of it’s former density, which was smothering koa forests. There is still banana poka everywhere, still feeding birds, but it is in balance. And thats a great thing about properly executed biocontrol. It brings balance back to the forest ecosystem. I hope similar for strawberry guava, Kahili Ginger, and Clidemia, which are threatening Kauai’s forests. 7 agents have been released on clidemia since the 1950s, but they aren’t controlling it well. Hunters will be happy to know that HDOA has another clidemia biocontrol in testing.

    It’s easy to get caught up and freaked out by the idea of eradication. Even I sometimes get concerned. But then when I think of how much intact native forest really is fenced compared to how much still has lots of animals. Then I get more concerned for the forest. And as more forests actually does get fenced off, my support of fencing will eventually flip when i feel it is adaquate. This is especially true for the remote areas where hunters are not doing a good job at controlling animals. Those are the areas I hunt. And those are the areas that are most likely to get eradication because public hunting alone is not having enough impact. When I go deep into the forest and I find cattle thinning out the forest quickly- thats concerning to me. And when there is so much pigs that 80% of the ground is tilled up and vulnerable to erosion- thats also concerning. At the very least, it’s degredation of game animal’s own habitat . Pigs in many remote areas are controlled more by disease than by hunters.

    It’s a shame pitman Robertson money isn’t being used for game animal habitat improvement. (…or is it?) Maybe the law suit should incorperate that. I believe that a system of hunter huts in the montains with open hunting restrictions would be very beneficial to many remote native forests, as well as to hunting opportunities.

    Coffee for Alala (Hawaiian crow): fine idea, assuming coffee doesn’t block out other plants and reduce diversity- which it is comonly blamed for. Coffee may very well be one Alala food source, but it is one of many and a diversity of food sources is key to quality habitat. Alala feed on and served to disperse seeds of many native lowland plants that we no longer see being spread around much by the alien birds now occupying the area. Any aditional food source, be it guava or coffee is great, but it is just one of many food sources. The more, the better. And that applies for all game animals too. In general, diversity makes everything better.

  8. Michelle, you mentioning that I work for TNC has forced me to write a disclaimer, just in case. Whatever I said here is my own opinion and does not nessesarily represent the views or opinions of my employer. I’m just a field worker.

  9. PS Rattus58, I work in the fenced bogs on Kauai and they are in terrific shape and looking better and better. The bog fences are insignificantly small areas and not neglected, as you say, nor “wastelands of invasive weeds”. Hunters cut the fences at a time when funding was low, and priorities elsewhere. That was a basis for their so called “neglect”. In fact, with pigs and goats excluded we are documenting native plants sprouting up through and diversifying bogs dominated by weeds. Native plants are proving quite capable of competing with many invasives and the fenced bogs are also used to outplant critically endangered plants. Beautiful places. We do volunteer days to Kanaele bog.

  10. Hi Nicolai,

    I’d love to continue this with you, but will have to do it later. At issue is watershed, your understanding of Mauna Kea and its “success”, and fencing and its impact and import to the overall goals of NARS and private entities. I’ll be back to continue this with you.

    Much Aloha,

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