EXCLUSIVE: State seeks to crack down on off-roading at Kaena Point

Published: Oct. 21, 2015 at 10:00 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 22, 2015 at 9:27 PM HST
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A Hawaiian monk seal can be seen in this undated photo at Kaena Point State Park. Image source:...
A Hawaiian monk seal can be seen in this undated photo at Kaena Point State Park. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

KAENA POINT, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - YouTube videos show drivers mud-bogging at Kaena Point, destroying parts of the state park where off-roading is banned and only vehicles with permits are allowed. The problem has been ongoing for years.

Kaena Point regular Kimo Smith said he sees off-roaders at the wildlife sanctuary all the time.

"I ride my bike to Kaena Point, and I'll see a four-wheeler in there and I can see the bumper doesn't have the sticker on it," he said.

Smith snapped photos of other offenders: a person with a dog near a bird sanctuary, a man in a hammock dangling from a Coast Guard Tower, and a caravan of jeeps that tore up the landscape.

A year ago, the state instituted a permitting system.  A locked gate at the entrance has a combination that changes weekly to curb abuse. But some permit holders share the combination with their friends.

"Regardless of what information we put out there, there are equal or greater amounts of social media telling people to do the wrong thing," said Curt Cottrell, state Department of Land and Natural Resources Parks administrator.

Kaena Point is an important sanctuary for endangered species. And it's not just off-roading that's the problem at Kaena Point.

For example, the park is the most accessible spot in the main Hawaiian Islands to see monk seals. But parkgoers often violate the rule that bans coming within 100 feet of a monk seal.

"They think it's a cute animal. They want to get very close. And they get very close to take a picture," monk seal advocate Zeenat Mian said.

The state has struggled for years to enforce the rules at Kaena Point, and to curb illegal activities.

But limited manpower means enforcement is lacking.

The state Division of Forestry and Wildlife only has 10 enforcement officers to patrol thousands of acres of nature reserves. They can't respond immediately to complaints, and DLNR is lucky if one officer gets to Kaena Point once a week.

DOFAW's Marigold Zoll said the agency is seeking a grant aimed at bolstering enforcement in the area.

"But at this time we just don't have the capacity to be out there," she said.

Also, next year, DLNR will use transient accommodations tax money for beach protection at Kaena. Bigger boulders will be placed as boundaries to prevent off-roading

Cottrell said the state might even put someone at the park to ensure people close the gate and that they have permits to get in.

Zoll added that until personnel is increased, she's counting on voluntary compliance.

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