Not surprisingly, the bill drew strong support from hunting organizations, individual hunters, and the Hawai`i Rifle Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association. Daniel Read, state liaison with the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, urged passage of the measure as well. Cleon Bailey, with a group called the Congressional Sportmen’s Foundation, testified that his group had helped other states enact similar legislation, and that now “No Net Loss” laws have been passed in nine other states.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources opposed the measure. First, testified William Aila, DLNR director, “the requirements imposed by the bill may be impractical or impossible to achieve. Many of the state’s most important public hunting areas are managed through voluntary cooperative agreements with private landowners or through agreements with other government agencies. The department does not necessarily have control over areas that a landowner may choose to withdraw from such agreements.”
Aila pointed out the department’s other obligations that could interfere with public hunting: “the department is mandated to manage lands for the protection of natural and cultural resources… Control of game mammals in certain areas is an essential management tool for that purpose. Restricting the department’s ability to carry out those responsibilities will result in loss of watershed yield and function, damage to native ecosystems, sedimentation and damage to nearshore fisheries and marine environments, and may result in lawsuits resulting from take of endangered species.”
Contrary to hunters’ claims that public hunting areas are shrinking, Aila stated, “[A]creages of public hunting areas are increasing… In the past decade, more than 17,000 acres of new hunting opportunities have been added … and an additional approximately 28,000 acres are in the process of being added.” Across the state, 900,000 acres of public hunting lands are available, which, he said, “constitutes a large proportion of the approximately 1,000,000 acres managed by the Division of Forestry and Wildlife [DOFAW] statewide.”
The recently established Hawai`i County Game Management Advisory Commission weighed in with supportive testimony, as did Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi. “The nine members of this omission, all long-time outdoorsmen … have advised me that game management areas on the island of Hawai`i are disappearing at alarming rates… This measure is ideal as it will protect the interests of Hawai`i’s hunters and give the state the flexibility to move suitable lands into game management status and unsuitable lands into conservation.”
The Sierra Club opposed the bill as did Earthjustice, Conservation Council for Hawai`i, The Nature Conservancy of Hawai`i, the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, the Oah`u Invasive Species Committee, Hawai`i Audubon Society, Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, the Kaua`i Watershed Alliance, and CGAPS (the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species). Dozens of individuals weighed in as well with testimony in opposition to the measure.
Rick Warshauer was one of the few licensed hunters to oppose the bill, which, he said in his testimony, “makes no sense, is unjustified, and should be killed.” Rather than enact a no-net-loss measure, “a much better approach to increase hunting opportunities is to liberalize the hunting rules, which make very little sense in the context of this century’s realities.”
Licensed hunters “make up only eight-tenths of one percent of Hawai`i’s population,” he wrote. “It is a tough task to attempt to control hunted animals on the 900,000 acres (90 percent) of DOFAW land open to hunting with so few of us. We can, however, provide an inordinate amount of political pressure for unreasonable demands… Every year our incredulous claims supersede actual facts on the status of our watersheds and hunting areas, especially when the adverse impacts of over-abundant game animals are concerned.”
The bill sailed through the House of Representatives. After its second hearing in the Finance Committee, language was added to establish a Hunting Advisory Commission within the DLNR and to require the department to “make reasonable efforts to prevent and replace the loss, destruction, or degradation of public hunting areas on any island of the state instead of strictly prohibiting a reduction in acreage.”
In the Senate, the “no net loss” language was dropped, and the duties of the proposed Hunting Advisory Commission were spelled out further. Also, a “hunting pilot program” was to be set up on the island of Hawai`i. Among other things, it would be tasked with setting up a game management plan for the island, in consultation with the county’s existing Game Management Advisory Commission.
The House disagreed with the Senate changes, but conferees did not manage to work out the differences.
‘Don’t Sell Our Birthright’
The following testimony was submitted by J.B. Friday. Although he is a forester with the U.S. Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry in Hilo, he was testifying on his own behalf:
I am writing to testify against House Bill 1902.
You probably know the story of Jacob and his brother Esau from the Old Testament. Esau came home one day and was hungry. Jacob was cooking stew, but he would not give his older brother any until the older brother swore away his birthright. Esau was the kind of guy who never thought beyond the next meal and happily agreed, but for the rest of his life he regretted his decision.
Our birthright here in Hawai’i is the land, with the plants and animals that are unique to this land, such as the palila and the `i`iwi, the halapepe and the `iliahi.
Don’t sell our birthright. Don’t sell out the palilia and the `i`iwi for goats or pigs or sheep. There will always be goats and pigs and sheep, but once the native plants and animals of Hawai’i become extinct they will be gone forever. They need our protection. We can’t give up on them now. Please allow the foresters to do their work and protect the forest. Please vote against HB 1902.