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Rare Hawai‘i: Promoting goal-oriented, science-based management of invasive animals in the islands

Millions of years of evolution in isolation. Thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Introduced pigs, goats, deer, sheep, and wild cattle destroying crops and young livestock, watersheds, and native plants and animals. More than 265 extinctions and counting.


Hunting Facts/Myths

Op-Ed Sept. 22 2010

Costs (Residents pay)

Policy and Control Outside Hawaii (Hawaii Lags)

Problem Overview

Newspaper and Magazine Articles

A Look at What We're Losing


Feral Pigs and the Death of Hawaii's Native Birds

Native Hawaiians Speak Out




Scientific Reference List

Don Chapman describes being in a Hawaiian rainforest

Edward O. Wilson on Biodiversity

Report about invasive species in Hawaii available online From The Hawaii State Legislative Reference Bureau (pdf file)

Environmental Valuation and the Hawaiian Economy takes a look at the financial and social costs of losing native Hawai`i.

USGS's Hawaii and the Pacific Islands page. Scroll down a few pages and look for Feral Pigs, followed by Feral Goats and so on.

Link to Nature out of place, Chapter 1 (pdf file)

Controlling Feral Animals (see how they do it Down Under)

Other Environmental Issues

Speak Out!

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Hawai'i's native plants and animals are being destroyed, and its natural areas degraded, by pigs, goats, sheep and deer that were introduced to the islands, released into the wild, and allowed to increase in number for hunting. The high costs resulting from these poorly controlled invasive animals far outweigh the benefits. In the 1950s, Hawai'i's government ended policies that protected forested watersheds--and the agriculture and native species that depend on those watersheds--by aggressively controlling invasive hoofed animals. The result has been a steady decrease in native biodiversity and watershed quality, and a steady increase in agricultural losses and other costs.

Only hunters benefit from having thousands of land-modifying invasive animals roaming public and private property. This situation is unsustainable and unfair to all those coping with animal damage--that is, every taxpayer in the islands.

In 2011, with the support of Governor Neil Abercrombie, DLNR chair William Aila took an important step to begin the process of change. DLNR announced a plan, called The Rain Follows the Forest, to fence some watershed areas and remove invasive hoofed animals. This is a significant change, but much more needs to be done. DLNR has not addressed its harmful policies that protect invasive hoofed animals as "game mammals" and limit how many can be taken by hunters, even though the animals reproduce faster than hunters can control them. The Hawai'i Department of Agriculture and chair Russell Kokubun are doing nothing to address the hoofed animal problem, though feral pigs and deer are both devastating agricultural pests. Because of the decades-long absence of a solid conservation message coming from DLNR and other state entities, most of Hawai'i's people, including the Hawai'i State Legislature, have little understanding of island conservation issues. Much more dedicated funding, and much more public participation in pest animal control, are needed to protect Hawai'i's land, water, agriculture, and biodiversity for future generations.

To sum up the problem: Hawaii’s game mammals are a recreational and food resource. However they are harmful invasive species in Hawai'i and are far too numerous and widespread to be controlled by public hunting. Pigs, goats, sheep, and deer that have been introduced to islands:

• damage watersheds, crops, livestock, turfgrass, and recreational areas
• spread other invasive species such as strawberry guava and aggressive grasses
• contaminate the fresh water supply with disease-causing organisms
• destroy native species and their habitat
• prevent the recovery of rare and endangered species
• increase rockfalls, mudslides, and reef siltation by accelerating erosion
• cause vehicle collisions on the roads
• force people who do not want large grazing animals on their property to pay for expensive fences and other control measures

Hawaii lacks effective policy and programs to keep game animals inside Game Management Areas and out of crops, ranches, and important watershed areas.

  • Since the Territorial government's effective "noxious animal control" policy ended with the promotion of an official game program in the 1950s as statehood approached, Hawai'i's natural areas, farms, and other property have been subjected to increasing damage by free-roaming pigs, goats, sheep, deer, and wild cattle. The State of Hawaii game program imposes take restrictions that prevent hunters from contributing to population control in any meaningful way, even though these animals are controlled around the world as invasive species. Hawaii lags behind, and pays the price with ongoing degradation of watersheds, agriculture, and no safety for the islands' native plants and animals.
  • New Zealand and Australia both have similar problems to Hawaii’s: they have large populations of invasive hoofed animals that are valued for hunting but are too widespread and reproduce too rapidly for hunters to control. These countries have developed comprehensive policy that supports problem animal control. Many U.S. states are also much further along than Hawaii in this respect. Hawaii’s invasive mammals are not listed by the state's Department of Agriculture as "pests." (The word "pest" is not intended to insult people who appreciate the animals, it is simply the term in Hawaii law for organisms that are "injurious to the environment or vegetation of value.") The state has no policy framework to support the effective management of invasive mammals. The Australian state of Queensland would make an excellent model for Hawaii with its system for classifying invasive animals and developing management strategies for high-threat species including feral pigs and goats.
  • Our future food independence is at risk, with hoofed animals continuously destroying crops and converting high-quality watershed forests to erosion-prone forests dominated by a few introduced plants. There are crops our local farmers just cannot grow, because the pigs are too numerous. Unmanaged hoofed animals also carry diseases that affect both livestock and humans. Feral pigs carry diseases that can make people sick as well. They prey on other animals and eat rotting carcasses of their own species and other livestock.


  • Many “hunting areas” are actually conservation lands that are designated for hunting to reduce the number of animals in those areas. However, this policy has never worked; the animals reproduce far too rapidly to be controlled through public hunting alone, and many remote areas rarely see a hunter at all. In a baffling twist, the hunting program still imposes take restrictions on invasive game mammals, even in endangered species habitat. The hunting rules, with take limits and maps can be found here.
A brief history of game mammals in Hawaii
  • Before the Polynesians arrived, Hawaii had no hoofed animals. The Polynesians brought small pigs that were kept as livestock, not released into the forest and hunted as later animals were. (Most evidence indicates the Polynesian pig was purely a domestic animal, not a game animal. For more information, see P.Q. Tomich, 1986, Mammals in Hawaii.)
  • During the era in which Captain Cook arrived in the islands, it was common for ships’ crews to release domestic animals on the islands they visited, to multiply and provide a food source for future visits.
  • Cook and subsequent ships brought goats, sheep, cattle, and European swine to Hawaii, beginning in 1778.
  • All these animals thrived and began to permanently alter the island landscape, as grazing animals do all over the world.
  • Around 1900, faced with massive watershed damage by feral mammals, the Hawaii Territorial Board of Agriculture and Forestry initiated an animal control program. It included shooting, poisoning, bounties, and fencing a system of Forest Reserves. In about 50 years, 170,000 feral pigs were removed from the forests statewide, along with tens of thousands of goats and other hoofed animals.

"The numbers of feral sheep and goats grazing on the ranges of the various islands also created problems in the loss of habitat--the destruction of cover and subsequent erosion of the soil. Today the goats, sheep, and pigs are classed as game and are hunted as 'mainlanders' hunt deer. Hunting, in some areas, has reduced this 'game' to such low numbers that seasons must be imposed to insure future sport. The Japanese, or 'axis,' deer--which were brought to Molakai [sic] Island during the last century as a gift to the King--also offer possibilities for transplanting to the other islands to add to hunting opportunities, Mr. Rutherford* says. The Territory is now studying these acclimated deer to determine if such transplanting operations are advisable." *Chief of the U.S. Fish and wildlife Service's Branch of Federal Aid, who at the time of this press release 'had recently returned from Hawaii, where he inspected the Territory's projects under the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration Act.'

The FWS has changed its position and no longer promotes invasive ungulates.

  • Beginning in the 1950s, additional game species were introduced. DOFAW's forerunner, the Hawaii Division of Fish and Game, introduced mouflon to Kaua'i, Hawai'i, and Lana'i. Axis deer, previously limited to Moloka'i, were introduced to Maui, Lana'i, and O'ahu. With statehood in 1959, HDFG took over responsibility for free-roaming hoofed animals from the Board of Agriculture and Forestry. HDFG ended the policy of reducing animal populations to protect the land and water and instituted a policy of sustained yield, with bag limits and hunting seasons.
  • Since the 1950s, there has been no effective plan or policy development to protect public land and private property from the damage caused by pigs, goats, sheep, and deer that wander freely over the islands.
  • In the meantime, as our understanding of the severity of the problem has grown, other states and countries have pursued intensive control research, planning, and policy aimed at reducing the threat from introduced hoofed animals.

List of sources

Hawai‘i's Animal Management Agencies

DOFAW is the agency charged with protecting Hawai‘i's forests and watersheds:

DOFAW Policy B: Protect and enhance the condition of Hawaii's unique native plant and animal species, and native ecosystems for their inherent value to Hawaii's citizens and for their productive value to science, education, industry and the cultural enrichment of future generations and prevent species extinctions whenever possible. (Source: 2004 DLNR DOFAW report to State Legislature)

Without fencing around clearly defined game management areas and no effective plan or policy to manage invasive vertebrates, there is no control over where the animals go or how numerous they become. It is therefore impossible for DOFAW to implement Policy B.

Hawaii Department of Agriculture is the agency charged with declaring pests:

Language in the Hawaii Revised Statutes (available here) discourages DOA from listing pests by placing the responsibility for controlling declared pests almost entirely with DOA. This language also removes responsibility from the public at a time when we need all hands on deck to help manage our severe pest problems.

§141-3  Designation of pests; control or eradication of pests; emergency power.  (a)  The department of agriculture shall designate the coqui frog as a pest.  All other pest designations shall be established by rule, including the criteria and procedures for the designation of pests for control or eradication.

     (b)  The department of agriculture shall, so far as reasonably practicable, assist, free of cost to individuals, in the control or eradication of insects, mites, diseases, noxious weeds, or other pests injurious to the environment or vegetation of value; and in the investigation, suppression, and eradication of contagious, infectious, and communicable diseases among domestic animals; and shall in like manner distribute to points where needed, beneficial insects, or pathogens and other antidotes for the control of insects, mites, diseases, or other pests injurious to the environment or vegetation of value, and for the control or eradication of vegetation of a noxious character.

Position paper from the Hawaii Conservation Alliance on feral ungulates (hoofed animals). Alliance partners include UH, DOFAW, USDA, and Kamehameha Schools: HCA Home Page. See also:

Haleakala National Park fencing and USGS on Hawaii's natural history

Conservation Council for Hawai'i Introduced Game Animal Control Campaign

Will tomorrow's Hawai'i look like this...

Or this?

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