With dairy closing, hunters concerned about access road blocked

  • Helena Lundblad bottle-feeds one of the 10 calves purchased from Big Island Dairy at Magical Creatures of Hamakua Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Laupahoehoe. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

  • Two of the 10 calves purchased from Big Island Dairy stand together Wednesday at Magical Creatures of Hamakua Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Laupahoehoe. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

PAAUILO — Hamakua hunters are concerned about losing access to lands near Ookala after Big Island Dairy was given the go-ahead to install a gate on an internal road that not only leads up to its facilities but has long-served as an ingress for those headed to neighboring hunting grounds.

More than 40 people attended a community meeting at the end of January held in Paauilo and spearheaded by County Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, about the matter.

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“We were getting a lot of calls because of the gate being put up, which I of course don’t agree with because my family are generations of hunters as well,” Poindexter told the crowd at the start of the nearly hour-long meeting.

Growing up in a family with six kids, Poindexter said, “We only survived because we could go hunting and fishing, so we needed both mauka and makai to survive. That’s our lifestyle, and that’s our gathering right. That’s what we’re going to fight for. So even if they say no can, somehow can. Maybe not the exact way that we would want it, but there should be a way.”

Bob Masuda, first deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, addressed the crowd at the meeting and read a detailed response from the state Department of Agriculture.

While DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife regulates state hunting activities, the Department of Agriculture oversees the land leased by the dairy.

Morris Atta, agricultural land program manager for the Department of Agriculture, who did not attend the meeting but provided the information shared by Masuda, said the dairy has reported a “significant increase in theft and vandalism” on the property.

In response to those incidents, Atta said Big Island Dairy asked the department for permission to secure the property at night.

“That’s when our department gave them permission,” as long as the gate is located completely within the dairy-leased property, he said.

According to Atta, the dairy sits on two “fairly large parcels” next to the highway, and DLNR also owns and manages land mauka of the dairy, which is used for forestry and, historically, hunting purposes.

There is a provision in the dairy’s lease that would allow for the issuance of formal licenses or permits for use of the internal road for hunting access, he said, but that provision was never exercised in the past.

Even though it’s not technically a public road, because DLNR had controlled both areas previously, Atta said the road in question became the “access point of convenience” after an old county road located nearby fell into disrepair.

While use of the internal road by hunters is due to its convenience, that use can only be continued in a manner that will “meet the security needs of the lessee.”

The internal road also crosses property owned by Kamehameha Schools before entering state land.

“We are very sympathetic to any reports of theft in the agricultural community,” Kamehameha Schools spokeswoman Crystal Kua said. “We are currently researching certain legal and access issues related to the road leading to the dairy. If these legal and access questions are answered satisfactorily, then we don’t have a problem with the gate being built as long as the gate is managed within the parameters detailed to us by the dairy, including coordination with the community.”

A number audience members voiced concerns and offered suggestions during the community meeting.

Stanley Mendes, a member of the county’s Game Management Advisory Commission, attended the meeting and suggested seeking an alternate route.

“I think the consensus is to work things out,” he said after the meeting.

But access remains a concern. Even if the dairy’s gate opens at 6 a.m., Mendes said a trail leading to the hunting area is six miles long, and hunters usually start from the trailhead at 3:30 or 4 a.m.

Poindexter said Masuda will take the information gathered at the community meeting to determine what any next steps might be.

Big Island Dairy announced late last year it will cease operations this spring. A call to dairy management Tuesday was not returned.

Atta said the Department of Agriculture doesn’t intend to remove the gate once the dairy closes, but “it’s not in our best interest to make it inconvenient or difficult for people to get to the hunting area.”

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“A solution exists out there, there are ways to do it, it’s just people need to get together and talk about it,” he said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.