HILO (AP) - Hawaii County officials have started to organize a new game-management commission designed to give local hunters a voice in managing feral animals.
The mayor's executive assistant, Char Shigemura, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that the commission will likely draw interest from hunters and fishermen but it's open to all citizens.
Shigemura wasn't aware of any applications that had been filed for the board but said several people from the hunting community had expressed interest in it. She's looking for as many qualified people as possible to be confirmed by the next council.
"We just want a good cross section of people so that it's a good balance," Shigemura said.
Big Island hunters launched a grass-roots campaign to create the Game Management Advisory Commission so they would have a voice in managing fish and game.
Many Big Island hunters have disagreed with the way that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources manages wild and feral animals.
One of the disputes culminated in the passage of a law by Hawaii County that bans aerial shooting of ungulates by helicopters. The department, citing a federal mandate, has ignored the law.
The department has hired sharpshooters in helicopters to kill feral goats and sheep in the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve to prevent the animals from destroying mamane trees eaten by the endangered native forest bird the palila. State wildlife officials say the bird has struggled since sheep and goats - animals that aren't native to the islands - were introduced to the forests of Mauna Kea a century ago. The bird's population has shrunk two-thirds over the past decade.
Hunters, however, say hunting animals like sheep and goats is part of their way of life. They say the state is threatening this way of life by killing so many of animals that they hunt and by fencing off many forested areas where they once hunted.
Big Island residents voted in favor of a ballot measure creating the commission by 59 percent to 31 percent in the Nov. 6 general election. About 10 percent left the question blank.
The nine-member commission will include one person from each of the nine council districts. Mayor Billy Kenoi is charged with appointing these members, and the County Council will approve them.
Pat Pacheco, a prominent hunter who has been instrumental in the passage of the charter amendment, and another hunter, Tony Sylvester, are scheduled to meet Kenoi on Monday to review some of the names being circulated to be on the commission.
"We've got to get (the commission) going quickly so we can get solutions going so we can take to the Legislature to help us," Pacheco said. He expects the commission to serve as the voice of hunters and fishers on the Big Island, to serve as a local counterweight to the DLNR. Pacheco said Kenoi had asked him to help recruit people interested in being on the commission.