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December rains end drought statewide, but raise new concerns about invasive deer

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 8:56 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2022 at 9:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time since November 2018, Hawaii is drought-free.

The National Weather Service said December’s heavy and persistent rains eliminated drought conditions statewide.

“Boom! December hits and we get pretty wet conditions and then it’s gone, you know, drought’s gone,” said Weather Service Senior Hydrologist Kevin Kodama, who said the month was one of the wettest Decembers ever in the last 50 years.

The rains replenished stream flows and tuned much of the landscape green again, with southerly winds bringing much needed moisture to parched leeward areas.

“You look at vegetation, it’s growing back nicely,” said Kodama. However, “It’s not completely recovered, especially in the areas that were severely damaged by axis deer.”

“It greened up real quick,” said James Espaniola, a forestry and wildlife technician with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. “Somebody told me that the vegetation was already there, but the animals munch it down.”

DLNR said areas like west Molokai, Lanai and Maui are overpopulated with the invasive deer. And there’s not enough grass to feed them with, after they recovered from the rains.

“The concentration of those numbers, they’re just eating it, so it’s always bare dirt,” said Espaniola. “The land doesn’t have time to push out some fresh vegetation.”

“You just have that much of an amount of deer and cattle out there that they will literally mow this thing down,” said state Sen. Lynn DeCoite of Molokai.

She’s among the Maui area legislators who want to increase funding for the DLNR to monitor and also control deer populations, including retrofitting miles of 4-foot fencing to 8 feet to keep the deer from competing with cattle ranches for food.

“We can’t manage the migrations and movements of deer very well because they can go over and through standard cattle fencing,” said Scott Meidell, president and CEO of Haleakala Ranch.

The sheer numbers of the deer are also packing down soil, which then runs down into the ocean — that was evident in the large areas of brown water off south Molokai.

“How do you address the environmental issue of erosion, of runoff onto our reefs that suffocates those reefs?” DeCoite asked.

Meantime, ranchers and farmers are glad the drought is over, at least for now.

“We’re grateful for what we can get and we’re hoping and praying for more,” said Meidell.

Forecasters are still predicting a higher than normal rainfall for the rest of the wet season.

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