State to resume shooting sheep from helicopter - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

State to resume shooting sheep from helicopter

BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Aerial sheep shooting on the Big Island is set to start again. The state will kill the sheep and goats in order to save an endangered bird.

Hunters are allowed up Mauna Kea to hunt virtually anytime and in 10 days hunting by helicopter will start again, although it's not without controversy.

The endangered palila bird is a type of finch. There are only 1,300 or so left. The bird lives off the indigenous mamane trees. However the State Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife says non-native sheep and goats also eat the trees. By law the bird must be protected which means the sheep have to go.

"The sheep have to be eradicated from the mountain because they're threatening the endangered palila bird up there," said Roger Imoto, DLNR Forestry and Wildlife Administrator.

Helicopter hunting is done around the world. In Hawaii sharpshooters with the state fly up Mauna Kea and kill the invasive animals. Then they let people come up and take the carcass for meat.

"Everybody has the misgiving that aerial shooting is like they see in the movies where the gunner is spraying bullets out of the helicopter and all that. It's not really done that way. The guys do actually get within 20 to 30 yards of the animal from the helicopter and shoot one at a time. Each animal is put down for sure they don't just spray bullets out of the helicopter at the animals," said Imoto.

"My reaction to the DLNR's intention to resume aerial shooting is one of concern," said J Yoshimoto, Hawaii County Council Chair.

There is plenty of opposition to the aerial hunting. So much so the Hawaii County Council unanimously passed a resolution banning the practice.

"I was persuaded by the testimony of the hunters that basically said that aerial shooting is detrimental to the palila birds and it's ironic because this is something they are trying to protect," said Yoshimoto. "We are disappointed because we're hoping the state would work with the county in trying to manage the hunting areas."

Opponents of the shooting say drought is hurting the birds and trees more than the sheep. And they argue thousands of sheep have been killed over the years yet it hasn't stopped the palila bird population from declining.

Still a federal judge says the state trumps the county and thus the aerial hunting will begin again starting July 15.

The state says plenty of people are interested in collecting the meat however only those with a permit will be allowed to in the area after the shooting to get the carcass.

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