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Upcountry Maui Ranchers Struggle to Feed Cattle Amid Summer Drought

Powerlines stand in the setting sun.
Powerlines stand in the setting sun.

KULA, Hawaiʻi — Some areas of Maui are in extreme drought conditions, and ranchers there are struggling to feed their cattle.

As the summer heats up, dry conditions are limiting the availability of grass for cattle to eat, and the grass that is there is being devoured by invasive axis deer.

Kaonoulu Ranch General Manager Ken Miranda said it hasn’t rained in Kula in months.

“As you can see, the grass is drying up and the forage for the cattle is getting short,” Miranda said. “Besides not having the forage, the deer are out here competing with the cows, and we have huge numbers of axis deer."

Drought conditions have forced the rancher to get rid of about 30% of his cattle, “just to get down to where we can be sustainable,” he said.

There are dry conditions across the state, but "the drought conditions are the worst in Maui County,” said National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama.

The drought could last longer than usual.

“The outlook that we’ve been getting, the climate models, are projecting perhaps a late start to the wet season," Kodama said. “So instead of getting a bump in rainfall in October, you may have to wait a little longer.”

Drought conditions on Maui have led county officials to declare a water conservation alert for Upcountry residents, sparking some controversy among those who thought nearby hotels should be asked to conserve water as well.

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