By Wendy Osher
A new group is now formally organized to control Axis deer in Maui County.
The Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Cooperative can help farmers, ranchers and other landowners that are having problems with the invasive species on their property.
According to county officials, the group can assist by having the deer certified and inspected by USDA, with the option to sell the deer meat to commercial entities.
“These deer are a menace to our farmlands and ranches and cause about a million dollars in damage to crops and property every year,” said Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa in a statement this morning.
“The formation of the MADHC is our first step towards controlling this invasive species and turning a pest into a resource,” he said.
Maui County Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons notes that a survey conducted by Maui County Agriculture Specialist Kenneth Yamamura confirms the severity of the problem in terms of the cost to farmers and ranchers.
“We expect that the hunters’ cooperative will provide a valuable, vital service in a professional manner, as one of many strategies to control impacts from the ever-growing numbers of deer,” said Parsons, who also is a member of the Maui Axis Deer Working Group.
Maui County is funding the cooperative with $37,500 from the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.
“We are very pleased to provide start-up funding for the Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Co-op,” said OED Director Teena Rasmussen.
“We are hopeful that through this pilot project, Maui can create a venison industry that has the potential for employing many people,” who also acknowledged the recent earmark of $75,000 by DLNR’s Hawaii Invasive Species Committee for other possible solutions for Maui’s deer problems.
County officials said that through the cooperation of these groups, they hope to make serious process in reducing the numbers of axis deer over the next year.
Those interested in deer removal from their property should contact the MADHC at: [email protected] or call (808) 269-4625.
Comprehensive information detailing the formation of the MADHC and how it operates was provided in an information sheet which is included below:
On August 28th, Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Cooperative became an agricultural producer cooperative in the state of Hawaii. With a mission to provide a vehicle for the Maui community to turn a harmful non-native species into a usable resource that addresses food security with zero waste. All hunter members will be required to have NRA rifle certification, hold a valid and current Hawaii hunter’s license, go through a background check, and will be fully insured by the cooperative’s liability policy.
Axis deer were introduced on Maui Island by private landowners with the state’s permission in the late 1950s as a game animal. Over the years, the population has grown exponentially. Axis deer are now an invasive animal in the County, causing millions of dollars in property damage for ranchers as the deer compete with the beef cattle and farmed goats for grass and for farmers in the form of crop damage. And yet Axis deer, which are originally from Sri Lanka and India, are a tropical deer and one of the best, low-fat, local grass-fed meats in the world. It is the future vision and key to its sustainability for MADHC to bring some of the deer harvested to be USDA inspected.
The cooperative began its 4-month deer harvesting pilot on October 1st, funded by a grant from the Maui County Office of Economic Development. The grant is administered through Tri-isle Conservation and Development Council and in-kind support is provided by the County’s Environmental Coordinator, Rob Parsons and by Kenneth Yamamura, Maui County Agricultural Specialist in the OED office. The purpose of the pilot is to establish safe, humane, and accurate harvesting services to landowners and farmers who are receiving damage from Axis Deer and other ungulates. The group extends a warm welcome to any farmer or landowner needing help.
Under a landowners’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife wildlife control permit, deer and other ungulate control is allowed at night if damage or nuisance by ungulates is discovered by DOFAW’s inspectors. MADHC hunter members can be put on these permits alongside other hunters of the landowners choosing. MADHC will also offer free services during the day for non-DOFAW permitted properties and will develop a bow hunting team for properties where firearms are not appropriate. MADHC wants to build connection and trust between landowners and hunters and offers its help in applying for or renewing permits. Seeing itself as only one solution to a huge problem in Maui County, the cooperative hopes to help manage the herds and prevent property damage.
“We will do our best to establish a safe environment for both landowners and their neighbors” says the cooperative’s NRA rifle instructor, Michael Tavares. Tavares has served two tours of duty, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, and has hunted on Maui private lands for 25 years. As the great grandson of D.T. Fleming, Tavares holds a legacy of care and respect for the aina and its creatures. As a hunter on private land, he has always sought to help the landowner with fence repair and anything else he can do. “There always has to be something in this for the landowner”, says Tavares. “This is why we invite them to be a part of the cooperative”.
Under the OED grant pilot, the cooperative’s hunter members will train in and execute a set of safety protocols for their hunts. A training regime and manual are being developed by Department of Interior retiree, Ted Rodrigues who provided training in ungulate control for the National Park Service in Haleakala for 34 years. As the Federal Firearms Instructor for the Department of Interior, National Park Service, Rodrigues trained and firearm certified Nature Conservancy, Department of Land and Natural Resources and Watershed Partnership staff. Rodrigues has also engaged in Axis deer control for 20 years on south shore golf courses. He will make it a requirement of every MADHC member hunter to train in how to most effectively, humanely, safely and accurately reduce the deer population. “Every piece of property is different, says Rodrigues and we will walk the land during the day and at night before ever taking a shot.” Rodrigues trains the MADHC hunter teams to set up the shooting lanes, backdrops, proximity to roads, buildings, houses, domesticated animals, and irrigation lines.
Dr. Phyllis Robinson, of Creative Conflict Solutions and former Chair of the Maui County Board of Water Supply was one of the founders of MADHC and now consults with the cooperative as they continue to create their working relationships in the community and with one another. Robinson introduced the project vision to the Big Island’s Kohala Center’s Laulima Center for Cooperative Development and in 2010 it was chosen as one of its statewide projects.
In its mission of zero waste, MADHC plans to use every part of the animal. Hides can be tanned and sold, entrails donated to farmers for use as compost, bone ground into bone meal and used as a soil amendment, antlers can become jewelry and the waste meat can be made into dog food. MADHC invites entrepreneurs interested in being associative members to contact them about any of these eco-friendly donations and/or business opportunities.
Some meat will go home with the hunters, some can be shared with the landowner, and at other times MADHC will invite a USDA/FSIS ante-mortem inspector and transport the deer to a recognized USDA registered slaughterhouse where it will be inspected post mortem to assure its safety for human consumption. Inspected meat will also be offered to the public by the cooperative at farmers markets and at a few interested Maui island restaurants and stores.
MADHC has seen its role as one part of a diverse approach to Axis deer management Maui Island. The cooperative has a seat at the table of the Maui Axis Deer Working Group as it moves toward the realization of a Maui County Axis Deer Management Plan.