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Frequent feral pig damage to Hawaiʻi Island parks and backyards is a costly nuisance

Clem Akina Park Hilo Hawaii Island pig damage
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
/
HPR
Clem Akina Park

Feral pig damage to public parks and backyard lawns on Hawaiʻi Island is becoming a frequent and costly nuisance. But this may not be the result of a spike in the number of feral pigs on the island as much as the population’s migration.

It’s 8:15 a.m. at Clem Akina Park in Wainaku as keiki trickle into the park’s facility for preschool.

Outside, a frustrated Maurice Messina surveys damage by feral pigs to the otherwise carefully landscaped park grounds. Messina oversees the county’s Parks and Recreation Department.

"The way it looks right now, it looks like somebody took a D9 to this park. You can't walk it. If you try to walk it, you'll probably twist your ankles. It's unsafe. It's unusable. Unfortunately, what we have to do is close the field until we can get it taken care of," Messina said.

Messina is referring to D9 heavy tractor-bulldozers used on construction sites. Indeed, the formerly-level green turf is now torn up, with deep troughs furrowed across its expanse.

Maurice Messina at Clem Akina Park
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
/
HPR
Maurice Messina at Clem Akina Park

He says Clem Akina Park is not the only county ground impacted by feral pigs in recent years. Most of the island’s 270 park facilities have experienced feral pig damage, including the Hilo Municipal Golf Course and the county-maintained ‘Alae Cemetery.

"I can tell you that it's never been this bad. I've got folks in our maintenance division that have been working here for at least 20, 25 years. And they say they've never seen a pig problem this bad."

The high visibility of feral pig damage on the Big Island in recent years may not necessarily be the result of a spike in the feral pig population, says Hawaiʻi Island wildlife biologist Kanalu Sproat of the Department of Land and Natural Resources Forestry and Wildlife Division.

"When there's less food for them, they will start going into areas where they normally don't go, especially closer to homes. And right now, we're kind of in the middle of one of those seasons. There hasn't been a lot of rain this winter and there's not a lot of fruits in the mountains. That can give the illusion that there's more than there are because now they're going into areas where they normally don't," Sproat said.

clem akina park
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
/
HPR
Clem Akina Park

When asked whether hunting rules should be loosened to allow hunters to help control the feral pig population, Sproat says hunters may be conflicted about it.

If the population goes down, that would limit the source of their harvest. Plus, he says hunting laws are already pretty liberal.

"Most areas are year-round hunting. If not, you can hunt for six months, which is still kind of a lot. And the limit is if there's a limit, the limit is like two pigs per day. And so for most hunters, two pigs is already kind of plenty and it's per day," Sproat told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Back at Clem Akina Park, Messina is working to fence off a portion of the park that leads to the forest to keep the pigs out.

He estimates the fencing will cost $35,000 out of his budget, and that doesn’t include repairing the turf or hiring pig trappers to remove the local pig population.

"If we end up starting to fence off big swaths of land in our county facilities, that means that money is coming out of that $800,000 that we have. Reality is it's just going to take away the recreation opportunities for our island," Messina said.

Messina says county summer fun is coming up in a few months, so he’s fighting against the clock to try to resolve the issue.

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