Lanai residents were miffed recently when a helicopter carrying a film crew "buzzed" a game management area on the opening weekend of the island's hunting season.
Hunters from around the state and as far away as the Mainland flock to the island to pursue axis deer and muflon sheep, making the scheduled hunting weekends an important moneymaker for the island's tiny economy.
"There's over 200 hunters that come in," said Lanai resident Christine Costales. "They pay big money to pay their way here. . . . They want to get their game, and when there's a helicopter flying all over it spooks the animals away."
The incident occurred on the weekend of March 17-18, which was the opening weekend of the Lanai deer rifle season, said Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward. After the department received complaints that a helicopter was "circling" the game management area, had descended near the ground and was "flying low and scaring the game away," a DLNR officer on the island made contact with the pilot, Ward said.
She said the pilot informed him the crew was scouting locations for a TV show, and invited the officer to accompany them the next day to observe. The DLNR officer did ride along in the helicopter on March 18, but "did not observe the pilot engage in any activities that could cause any intentional disruption to hunters," Ward said.
She said the normal flight elevation was 300 to 500 feet, with periodic descents to lock in GPS points.
The helicopter also conducted flights on March 24 away from the game management area, and passed over the area on March 25 on its way to pick up a Zodiac vessel near Shipwreck Beach, but the DLNR did not receive any complaints about helicopter activity for those days, she said.
Maui County Economic Development Coordinator Teena Rasmussen said the crew was on Lanai to film a pilot for a program called "Drop Zone," which she described as a " 'Survivor'-type" reality TV show, in which contestants are "dropped" in remote areas and then filmed as they make their way out.
County spokesman Rod Antone noted that because the filming took place on private land owned by Castle & Cooke Resorts, no county permits were required for filming, and so the county was not involved in the operation.
Chris Lovvorn of Castle & Cooke said producers of the show coordinated with Castle & Cooke officials to work out logistics for filming. He said filming lasted for five days, and the helicopter did not fly over Lanai City.
The show's producers have been "very respectful" of the community, he said, adding that the film industry "provides us an opportunity to share the beauty and to create a cottage industry on Lanai."
Lovvorn said he believed the helicopter flew over the game management area only at the request of the DLNR officer on board.
But Ward said that was not true.
"Our officer did not in any way direct them where or how to fly," she said. "His goal was to see where and how they were flying, and see whether that had any impact on hunting activities."
The DLNR manages 35,000 acres on Lanai as a cooperative game management area on land leased from Castle & Cooke. Permits are awarded by lottery to licensed hunters, who can take axis deer or muflon sheep by rifle or bow-and-arrow, depending on the hunting season.
On the weekend of March 17-18, Costales said her son was stalking a deer on his last day of hunting when he heard a loud noise.
"He thought he was going to get it, and the helicopter came right to him," she said. Even though he waved his arms angrily, the helicopter kept coming, and the deer ran away, she said.
Costales said that when she posted something about the incident on Facebook later, she got a big response.
"Everybody started commenting, 'Oh yeah, they were all over!' " she said.
Lanai resident Ron McOmber said a helicopter had been "buzzing everywhere" for around a week.
"Guys were out there doing archery, and they were out there buzzing right over the deer," he said. "I had complaints from hunters saying, I'm stalking deer and here comes this helicopter, 200 feet off the ground, buzzing the deer."
Costales said that if authorities knew about the filming ahead of time, they should have notified hunters when they checked in about where the helicopter would be flying, so they could avoid those areas.
"It's more about respect and advance notification," she said.
McOmber said it was a bad idea to mix hunting and helicopters.
"They spend all this money to come hunt on Lanai, and the helicopters are chasing the deer away," he said. "Nonhunters wouldn't understand. But a person who lives in a condo somewhere, and a helicopter comes and buzzes their condo, they're going to say, 'What the hell is that helicopter doing up there!' It's the same thing."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.