HILO — Earlier this week, four Hawaii County men received cease and desist orders from Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) officers for lava rock removal. The men all admitted their roles in the unlawful removal of tons of lava rock from the Mauna Loa Forest Reserve.
DOCARE officers believe the men are the primary individuals who are cracking large chunks of pahoehoe lava, stacking it in place, and then taking it out of the forest reserve by the truckload to sell to hotels and homes for rock boundary and decorative walls and fireplaces. At one time at least one of the men had a permit from the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) to conduct commercial rock collection, but officers say it expired about eight years ago and was not reissued.
DOCARE Officer Edwin Shishido has been leading a team of officers investigating what he calls theft of state natural resources.
“It appears they go in, crack the lava – all the flat rocks, the really nice ones, and when they don’t see any law enforcement officers around, they’ll load it up into pickup trucks and onto flatbed trailers and just leave,” he said in a press release about the cease and desist orders.
On a recent patrol of the Mauna Loa Forest Reserve, officers found evidence of numerous stacks of rocks: some five-feet high and 20-30 feet long ready to be moved.
“These guys were getting anywhere from $800 to $1000 for a load of rock, often selling it to commercial properties and residential homeowners in Waikoloa and other places on the Big Island, Shishido said.
The Mauna Loa Forest Reserve features a sweeping vista of lava on the eastern slopes of Mauna Loa. Signs at the entrance road and on the mountain clearly prohibit any commercial activity without a permit, including “Damaging or removal of natural features, historic, or prehistoric remains.”
State conservation officers acknowledge that there is a seemingly endless supply of lava on the mountain, but say lava rock removal by creating new roads off the main road and physically cracking the rock is damaging the natural resources and scarring the landscape. They say they’ve consulted with Hawaiian cultural practitioners who disagree with the practice of making money off natural resources that they say should be left alone and in place.
Proposed revisions to rules for State Forest Reserves were discussed at a half dozen public meetings last month, and the period for public comment closed on Friday in advance of the new rules package being presented to the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources at an upcoming meeting.
The revised rules, like the current ones, make it illegal to remove natural resources from a forest reserve for commercial purposes without having a written permit. They also limit the total dollar value of materials that can be taken with a permit, and the amount of time in which removal can occur.