The Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and a coalition of resource managers on Hawai'i Island have confirmed recent sightings of axis deer. The introduced, damaging large mammal was spotted in Kohala, Ka'u, Kona and Mauna Kea.
Axis deer were first introduced to Moloka'i and O'ahu in 1868, Lana'i in 1920, and Maui in 1959. They were never historically introduced to the island of Hawai'i, and their confirmed presence on that island has grave implications for island farmers and ranchers, public health, watersheds, and native Hawaiian ecosystems and species. They have caused extensive problems on Maui where more than 12,000 deer roam in upcountry, wandering onto ranch, farmland and urban areas resulting in millions of dollars in damages through major losses to agriculture, native species and Hawai'i's ecosystem.
"We are now expanding our surveys of areas where deer have been reported and are developing a response and removal plan," said William J. Aila, DLNR Chairperson. "We consider this a serious problem with far-reaching economic and environmental impacts to the agriculture industry and native ecosystems on the island."
A joint effort is now underway between DLNR, the Department of Agriculture, Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC), federal natural resource management agencies, ranchers, farmers, private landowners and concerned citizens. Strong, swift action is needed to protect this island from newly introduced damaging ungulates that threaten the environmental character of the Big Island. The BIISC has heard from ranchers, land owners and concerned residents from several locations on Hawai'i Island that they are seeing the unusual game animals. BIISC is working with trackers and using game cameras to survey and confirm their locations.
"We take all of these reports very seriously since there are a number of mammal species present on neighboring islands that could do serious damage to agricultural industry on this island," said Jan Schipper, BIISC program manager. "Ranchers and farmers have already expressed their concerns to me that deer and other species that are suspected to have been illicitly introduced on the Big Island would destroy their crops and possibly introduce new diseases to our island, as has happened on other islands."
Besides agriculture and public safety concerns, conservation agencies are particularly concerned about the impact to forest and native ecosystems and threatened and endangered species. There are no fences on the Big Island that are tall enough to keep deer out. If deer become established, conservation and deer exclosure fences on the island will have to be raised to eight feet. Retrofitting the more than 300 miles of fences could cost tens of millions of dollars. Farmers, ranchers and public safety officials would also need to install fences to protect crops and to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.
"DLNR's mission is to preserve and protect our natural resources, paramount of which are our watersheds and native ecosystems. We will need to take quick and effective action to prevent costly and destructive impacts on the Big Island that will last for generations, perhaps forever," said Aila.
Big Island residents are urged to report any sightings of deer or any other unusual new or introduced mammal anywhere by calling the BIISC Hotline at (808) 961-3299, or email Jan Schipper at firstname.lastname@example.org, providing your name, contact information, an estimate of how many deer, and the location where you saw the deer. Anyone with information relating to the unauthorized introduction of these or any other restricted or prohibitive animals is urged to also contact BIISC.