Ranchers hope for greener pastures amid Maui County’s ‘extreme’ drought

Updated: Jan. 29, 2021 at 10:34 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation declaring Maui County a disaster area because of severe drought has restored some hope for future economic relief.

But other ranchers say it’s too late for their businesses.

On Tuesday, Ige declared Maui County a disaster area because of drought conditions that started in March 2019. The proclamation enables the state to provide some relief from the disaster.

“The drought has hit Maui County hard, and I am declaring it a disaster area so we can take immediate measures to reduce and control the axis deer populations and to remove and dispose of the carcasses quickly,” Ige said, in a statement.

Ranchers on Molokai say the ongoing drought has magnified the deer issue facing the islands.

“Because of extreme drought, the deer population is coming out of their habitats and searching for feed,” said Rex Kamakana, a longtime Molokai rancher.

Kamakana and other ranchers say they’ve had to spend thousands of dollars to feed their herds. Normally, the grass would keep them full.

“The drought was the last straw,” he said. “It just got too rough for us as a business and a family.”

After 20 years, Kamakana is working on selling all of his business’ assets.

On Maui, ranchers report similar circumstances.

Ken Miranda’s family has been running Kaonoulu Ranch on Maui since 1916. He hopes that the recent rain and welcome sight of green grass is an indication the worst is over.

“Before this rain started coming in, we were actually buying grass to take care of the cattle, in the range of $70,000 to $80,000,” Miranda said.

“So long as we get some more moisture this spring up until June, we’ll be okay. But if the dry season comes like it did this past year, that intense and that prolonged, it’s going to be rough.”

Kevin Kodama, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Honolulu, said this if this isn’t the worst drought for the county in the last decade, it is the second-worst.

“There are a few more months in this current wet season,” he said.

“But when we have a La Nina of that strength, what we’ve seen in recent decades is that while the windward sides of the state can get ample rainfall, with moderate to strong La Nina, the windward sides might see some relief, but they won’t completely pull out of drought during the entire wet season.”

Kodama said the rainfall is like to focus on windward sides of the island because of Tradewind conditions, which isn’t good for the driest parts of the island.

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