Molokai Hunters Association Update
The Molokai Hunters Association (MHA) met on Tuesday February 13, with over fifty people packing into the conference room at the Mitchell Paole Center. In a meeting which saw both membership numbers and attendance figures double, a new Leadership council was elected and several official positions decided upon.
MHA’s first priority after reformation was to elect a Leadership Council and, as votes were quickly counted, Ron Rapanot was re-elected as President. Shannon Kaulili was elected Vice President and Walter Ritte became Secretary while Mel Chung was re-elected to the position of Treasurer and Rex Kamakama became The Sergeant At Arms.
The sharp increase in membership and attendance figures shows growing support for MHA as a representative body for the hunting community. MHA officially re-formed on January 23 in a reaction against outside hunters being given contracts from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to work on Molokai.
The meeting allowed members to reaffirm their belief in an anti-Pro-Hunt stance, culminating in a group decision to boycott TNC meeting until local Pro-Hunt projects are taken off the table. Many of the MHA hunters believe the stance will relieve pressure on both sides which could result in hasty decisions.
To reopen dialogue with project coordinators, MHA Leadership Council hopes to meet with Suzanne Case, Executive Director of TNC in Hawaii. “The projects will have a huge impact on our food supply,” explained MHA Secretary Walter Ritte. “The entire island depends on that food and they’ve glossed over that, creating these projects without even conferring with us. They’re trying to create a bad precedent.”
The belief of an impact on the food supply has been categorically denied by TNC, who have never reached their aim of reducing signs of ungulate activity to 10% along monitored transects. It echoes a myth that TNC want complete eradication of the pigs, which MHA President Rapanot has repeatedly attempted to debunk. Pro-Hunt recently began an eradication project on Santa Cruz Island which is expected to take two to three years to complete, contrasting with the short term projects intended for the Hawaiian islands.
Management of Natural Areas has been subject to facilitated public meetings since May 1993 due to respect for the rights of, and animosity between, landowners and hunters. However, TNC are a private, non-profit organization and have stated that they were under no obligation to make their plans public and that the January 23 meeting was planned as a goodwill gesture to the Molokai community.
After they were unable to complete their presentation at the Hunter's Working Group (HWG) Meeting on January 23, TNC said that their Pro-Hunt projects could not be understood in a large group situation. They claimed that this was due to the high level of dialogue necessary between the two factions. As President of MHA, Rapanot then called a private meeting with TNC in order to learn their plans, a move that the Association have said will not be repeated until MHA have been given input and recognition in the planning process for any projects which take place on Molokai.
MHA plans continue to push for a meeting with TNC Director Case throughout the week. “This is our last option before we turn to legal matters,” said Ritte “but we have been in contact with several lawyers who specialize in Native Hawaiian Rights.” These contacts included Lea Hong, Director of The Trust for Public Land's Hawaiian Islands Program. The Trust for Public Land is a private, nonprofit land conservation organization that works nationwide to conserve land for people and is known for its expertise in negotiation.
Named Hawaii Woman Lawyer of the Year in 2004 and Bank of Hawaii's 2005 Community Leader of the Year, Lea Hong has won landmark cases both in areas of Native Hawaiian rights and protecting the Hawaiian environment. She is renowned in the business community as one of the best environmental lawyers in the state.
Hong is therefore likely to be seen as a favorable opponent by TNC, whose mission is to “preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.”
As Walter Ritte said, “it’s a shame that the Hunters and TNC are fighting as both have direct interests in the forests.” With both parties hoping to open up a dialogue, perhaps Hong would be the ideal candidate to unite the two groups.