POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii - U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii will open portions of the training area, here, to local hunters in a continuing conservation initiative to eliminate the wild goat and sheep population in Pohakuloa Training Area conservation areas.

Licensed hunters will receive access to PTA, starting at 5 a.m., April 15 through April 17.

Check-in stations will be the Huluhulu station on the east side of PTA, and the Kilohana station on the west side of PTA. Hunters will receive handout information, including maps detailing approved access areas, travel routes and hunting areas on the installation.

"We've consulted with (the Department of Land and Natural Resources) and local hunting and

conservation groups to engage the community regarding our strategies to eliminate the goats and sheep in our conservation areas," said Lt. Col. Rolland Niles, commander, PTA. "These animals are devastating to this region's unique native environment."

Hunting of feral goats and sheep will help eliminate the ungulate, or hoofed animals, population here, now estimated at approximately 300-400, across a 25,000-acre area, according to Dr. Peter Peshut, biologist, PTA Natural Resources Office.

In 2009, an estimated 1,700 ungulates were driven from PTA conservation areas and were released to open game-management areas.

"These browsing animals are the primary threat to habitat conservation efforts in Hawaii, and the elimination of feral ungulates has broad support from our environmental community," Peshut said.

Once public hunting no longer efficiently reduces the goat and sheep population, public hunting for mammals will no longer be permitted in training areas 17, 19, 20 and 22. The Army will apply for an Animal Control Permit from the state for the eradication of the remaining ungulates, which are primarily goats.

Habitat restoration initiatives will follow the ungulate elimination, which will ultimately include 45,000 acres of fenced areas to prevent goat and sheep incursions. The decision to fence portions of eastern and western PTA for conservation areas was based on the requirement to conserve native and endemic plants and animals, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The fencing at PTA began in 2001 and has an expected completion date of 2012.

"We have 15 species of federally protected plants, four species of animals and 17 bird species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act," Peshut said. "All of these protected species, as well as native plants and animals, in general, require an intact native habitat to survive.

"Without a strong conservation commitment, to include the elimination of feral browsing animals, native Hawaii ecosystems will continue to degrade," he added. "As native ecosystems degrade, more of our unique species will be in jeopardy of extinction, and more species will be considered for protection under federal statutes."

Peshut coordinates the $4 million-a-year Army conservation program to protect the fragile PTA environment.

The end to goat and sheep hunting in PTA conservation areas, however, is not expected to completely end public hunting at PTA.

"We have discussed the future of hunting in the Keamuku Manuever Area with the Division of Forestry and Wildlife," Niles said. "We look forward to further discussions and the potential opening of the maneuver area to hunting when training is not scheduled.

"We are committed to being a good community member, as well as a good steward of these lands that are under our care," he added.

Hunting Hotline

Big Island hunters are encouraged to monitor the PTA Hunter's Hotline at 808-969-3474.

Page last updated Fri April 15th, 2011 at 20:12