Pigs out of control on Maunakea

  • Feral pigs eat French fries in 2018 near the boat ramp at Wailoa State Recreation Area in Hilo. (Tribune-Herald file photo)

  • Mark Hanson with sandalwood tree seedlings. (Tribune-Herald file photo)

A pair of bills in the state Legislature aims to remove limits on hunting feral pigs on Maunakea in order to protect plant life.

The bills would allow anyone with a valid hunting license to hunt for wild pigs on Maunakea without any bag limit and with the use of dogs.

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Both measures were co-introduced by several Big Island senators and representatives on the behalf of Mark Hanson, a Mountain View resident whose sandalwood trees on Maunakea have been devastated by uncontrolled feral pig populations roaming the mountain.

“I’ve refused a $130,000 grant from the state because the pigs keep killing my trees; there’s no point,” Hanson said.

Hanson is the founder of the Hawaiian Reforestation Program, a nonprofit dedicated to planting native trees and flora on public land. One of those native trees is sandalwood, which Hanson said is particularly attractive to feral pigs.

Puna Sen. Russell Ruderman, co-introducer of one of the bills, said the goal of the bills is to restore sandalwood and other forests by incentivizing hunters to manage pig populations on the mountain.

“Nobody goes to the mountain to hunt pigs,” Hanson said. “If they want to hunt pigs, they can just go to their backyards.”

Current Department of Land and Natural Resources rules only allow pig hunters in the Maunakea Game Management Area to take only one pig per season and do not permit the use of dogs. As currently written, the bills would remove all bag limits and permit the use of dogs within a roughly 11,300-acre area comprising all state-managed lands on Maunakea.

While Hanson said hunters currently have no incentive to manage Maunakea pigs, he said they are endangering not only his sandalwood but entire ecosystems.

If left unchecked, the pigs on the mountain destroy not only local plants, Hanson said, but also the eggs of local birds, many of which are game species themselves. With their eggs destroyed, game bird populations are declining on the mountain, Hanson said.

The pigs also dig through the soil, aerating it and exposing microbe cultures to the sun, ultimately robbing it of fertility, Hanson said.

Hanson said pigs also have made it inside fences surrounding the Maunakea watershed and cannot escape.

In addition to the changes in hunting regulations, the bills also would set aside an undetermined amount of money to install one-way pig gates in the watershed fences to allow the pigs to leave.

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“To leave them unmitigated up there just leaves us with the world’s biggest pigpen,” Hanson said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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