KULA - Hunters took turns Wednesday night aiming to shoot down a state proposal to preserve an East Maui forest area that has been a source of sustenance for their families.
"If you guys are thinking about moths and butterflies, they don't feed the people," said 73-year-old Haiku resident Donald Wallace, a hunter with 53 years of experience. He said he's hunted goats, pigs and deer in the vicinity of Nakula, a 1,517-acre portion of the Kahikinui Forest Reserve.
During a contentious meeting at the Kula Community Center, state officials told Wallace and other hunters opposing the plan that public access to Nakula would not be restricted under a proposal by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to include it in the Natural Area Reserve System.
The Maui News / CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS photo
Dr. Dave Brown used his own white boards Wednesday night to highlight arguments against a state plan to add a 1,517-acre chunk of the Kahikinui Forest Reserve as part of a Natural Area Reserve System. “What we want is an E I S,” Brown said, referring to an environmental impact statement.
The designation would give the sensitive ecological area special protection, allow for better cooperation among officials and make available more resources to preserve it.
Nakula is part of a leeward Haleakala koa forest that once shaded 40,000 acres from Makawao to Kaupo. The area is home to 20 species of rare plants, eight of which are endangered, and serves as a habitat for two endangered bird species, the Hawaiian hoary bat and Blackburn's sphinx moth.
By a show of hands, nearly all of the nearly 70 people who attended Wednesday night's meeting indicated their opposition to the plan to include Nakula in the state's reserve system.
There were a few people who testified in favor of the state proposal, citing the benefits of environmental protection of endangered plants and animals and particularly, the koa forest.
"It's fifteen hundred acres. It's not much," said Makawao resident Justin Kekiwi, a DLNR employee who spoke out as a private citizen.
"It's such a precious resource," Kekiwi said, and it should be protected and preserved for future generations.
According to a state report, the region has a good chance of recovering if it is protected. Koa forests have repeatedly shown an ability to regrow in damaged areas after grazing animals have been removed.
Retired firefighter Benjamin Joaquin, 74, of Makawao, said he's hunted in Nakula, and questioned the need for the Natural Area Reserve System to expand beyond the 110,000 acres it already has statewide.
"There's nothing really left for the hunters," Joaquin said. "The mountain is almost shut out to the local people."
Wallace's nephew, Patrick Wallace of Haiku, said he did not see the public benefit in adding Nakula to NARS, especially since the area is only accessible through permission from either private landowners and/or the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which has property adjacent to the land.
DLNR was represented Wednesday night by staff member Emma Yuen, who provided a PowerPoint presentation about the area. Other staffers were William "Bill" Evanson, the Maui District program manager for the Natural Area Reserve System; and Randy Kennedy, the Natural Area Program manager from DLNR in Honolulu.
Yuen said protecting the 1,500 or so acres of Nakula is foundational to preserving Hawaiian culture to allow future generations to see what the area was like in the past.
Evanson said the idea of preserving Nakula has been talked about for two years. Other designated areas in the Natural Area Reserve System have bounced back with more vegetation growing in forests and coral returning in the waters in just a two-year period of preservation protection.
"Nature has a way of coming back. There's a real resilience," he said.
Hunters complained about plans to build fences in the Nakula area, but Evanson said the fences were going up with or without the Natural Area Reserve System plan.
"Fences are highly controversial," Evanson responded. "We don't like doing them."
But fencing is the only effective way to keep animals away from destroying fragile ecosystems, he said.
Former state game warden Charlie Villalon, who works for the county's Planning Department and hunts as well, questioned the state's ability to restore the Nakula area by giving it special protection.
"I'll be honest. It's too little, too late," Villalon said.
Evanson pointed out that 90 percent of the areas in which the Division of Forestry and Wildlife manage, including those designated in the Natural Area Reserve System, are open to the public, including hunters.
As they did on Molokai, hunters might be enlisted to help rid the protected area of animals that do damage, he said. In a Natural Area Reserve System, groups of 10 or more people would be required to seek a permit.
Aside from the hunters, Dr. Dave Brown, a member of the board of directors of Public Access Trails Hawaii, also testified against the NARS proposal.
He said he has camped in the area twice.
"It's just a magical place, and NARS can't be trusted," said Brown, a Waihee resident and a retired physician.
Brown and county planner Paul Fasi, who said he was testifying as a private citizen, called on the DLNR to conduct an environmental impact statement on the NARS proposal.
"It should not go forward without an EIS," Fasi said.
Some of the proposal's critics said they believed that with state funds lacking, the DLNR should drop its plan.
"There is no money for this foolish project," Fasi said. "You guys have your priorities mixed up."
If the proposal advances, the nomination of the area for inclusion in the Natural Area Reserve System will be taken before the state Board of Land and Natural Resources. It then would make a recommendation to the governor, who would make the final decision on the area's designation.
Public comments on the proposal are being accepted through May 10 and can be sent via e-mail to email@example.com or mailed to DLNR Chairperson, attention: Emma Yuen, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu 96809.
For more information, visit hawaii.gov/dlnr/dofaw/nars/nakula.doc, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at email@example.com.