Full-time position added in deer battle

n the struggle against one of the island’s most disruptive animals, the Maui Axis Deer Working Group has hired a full-time coordinator to lead the charge against the invasive species.

Kanalu Sproat, 30, will help the group gather information on populations from landowners, farmers, ranchers, hunters and other people within the community in order to establish a management plan to control the deer.

“It was the strongest recommendation of the working group,” said group member Rob Parsons, who also serves as the Maui County environmental coordinator. “Our main goal was to hire a coordinator because many of us have full-time jobs. We see the value in having a point of contact for information going out to the community and coming in.”

One of the key factors in hiring Sproat came from his research at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in wildlife and wildlands conservation. His research involved studying population levels of the Rocky Mountain and desert bighorn sheep.

“Of the people that applied, he rose to the top,” Parsons said. “We had a lot of people with all assortments of training, but he’s actually trained in wildlife management.”

Most recently, Sproat spent a year and a half with the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program doing natural resource management and overseeing rare and endangered plant and bird species.

In a phone interview following his first formal meeting with the group Tuesday morning, Sproat said that his new job is “definitely a step up” and he is excited to study the pesky deer.

“When I got into natural resources, I went straight for wildlife population,” he said. “I enjoy plants, but animals are a little more interesting than plants because, you know, they kind of sit still.

“I was interested in being able to work my mind more, and I love going out into the field. I was sort of a grunt at my last job, so now it’s nice to think things through.”

Although the hiring creates formal leadership and increased communication within the group, member Teya Penniman, who also serves as the manager of the Maui Invasive Species Committee, said that the key to their plan is public involvement.

“We have a draft management plan with the idea that it is a community-based approach in managing deer populations,” she said. “We identified we needed that facilitator to meet with community groups so that it can be both driven by, and supported by, the community.”

This support includes information on population levels in areas throughout the county including Molokai and Lanai.

Drawing from estimates in a previous article published in The Maui News, Penniman said that population levels are still unclear, believing there could be anywhere from 4,300 to 42,000 deer on the island.

“But we could care less about how many there are,” she said. “We want to have an understanding of what’s a desirable level for an area because otherwise, how would you measure success? You need to have a baseline goal in order to measure whether you’re making a difference.”

The Maui Police Department’s Traffic Section has been tracking the number of deer-related incidents since 2010 and has recorded 176, including 54 safety conditions, 34 major motor vehicle accidents, 18 reckless endangering situations where drivers swerved to avoid deer and 12 minor motor vehicle crashes, among other incidents, according to police records. In that time, the number of incidents has risen by from 34 in 2010 to 42 in 2011 and 62 in 2012. As of May 28, there were 38 incidents – or more than in all of 2010.

There were no reported human injuries in any of the incidents.

The increase in reported encounters has caused the state to install deer warning signs in areas throughout the Valley Isle, said Lt. Ricky Uedoi, commander of the Traffic Section.

“They’re out there, and in places that people don’t expect,” he said. “We found deer-related incidents happen more frequently at night, so we’re asking the public to be aware and whenever you see those signs to be careful.”

Along with the growing numbers, Parsons expressed concern over recent behavior by deer in South Maui, saying that the deer “appear to be getting bolder.”

Last month, Bud Pikrone, a group member and the general manager of the Wailea Resort Community Association, said that he saw at least a dozen deer in the middle of the 11th fairway at the Wailea Golf Club’s Championship Blue Course.

Deer are typically found at night around the golf course, but the sighting occurred at about 2:30 p.m., with many golfers still playing and chasing the deer off the course. The animals were also spotted on the 10th fairway later that day, Pikrone said.

“They’re usually coming down the main roads around dusk,” he said. “They seem to be getting quite a bit bolder, or at least hungrier.

“They dig up the edges of the green and if there’s any landscaping around the course, they’ll eat them. They’ll eat the hedges at the subdivisions too; they’ll just eat whatever.”

Pikrone estimates that the Wailea Golf Club spends from $20,000 to $30,000 a year to repair deer-related damage to its courses, and golf course officials have talked about fencing the entire property of about 1,500 acres.

“We don’t know if that’s going to be feasible,” Pikrone said. “So we have our hands tied. That’s why we’re talking with the farmers and ranchers to come up with a plan. . . . (The deer) know a good thing when they see one, and they’re not moving.”

The working group is hoping Sproat, a Big Island native, will meet with various people and groups throughout the island to finish the management plan.

“One of the main goals is to meet everyone on a one-on-one basis so I can get ahold of what they want,” said Sproat, who will be moving to the island in July with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. “I’m not coming in here to tell people what to do. I’m not from here, and I haven’t lived here. Hopefully I can assist them and meet the goals that they have.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at