Dry lands reopen with hunters’ help

KOKE’E -When state recreational lands now closed because of fire hazard are reopened later this week, hunters will be watching for more than game.

The state Division of Forestry and Wildlife has enlisted hunters as volunteer fire spotters. If they see any signs of illegal open fires, they’ll radio agents, who will rush in to enforce the fire ban.

The arrangement will begin July 22, when outdoor enthusiasts will be allowed back into the previously off-limits portions of Waimea Canyon State Park, the Pu’u Pele forest reserve, hunting units A and J, and all ridge roads to Contour Road.

Hunters, who’ve wanted back into the areas and readily agreed to their new volunteer roles, won’t have any fire-ban enforcement authority, said Ed Petteys, Kaua’i branch manager for Forestry and Wildlife.

“They’ll watch for smoke of any kind and call us when they spot it. With their help, hopefully this will be a win-win for everybody. We’ll keep the fire danger down and people will be able to use the land,” Petteys said.

“We went to the hunters” with the request for help after borrowing the idea from the U.S. Forest Service, which has tried it on the U.S. mainland, Petteys said. “We’re hoping this works. Of course, if we have any (forest or brush) fires, we’ll have to rethink it.”

Any camp fires or other open fires are punishable by fines, plus a bill from the state if authorities must extinguish an unattended fire or one caused by neglect.

Because of a three-year drought cycle, the threat of fire is constant. The public must “take extra precautions not only in Koke’e but in all forest reserves, public hunting areas and natural area reserves throughout the state,” said Michael Buck, administrator of Forest and Wildlife.

Letting hunters back into the closed areas will help “bring down some game populations,” Petteys said.

The return of people to Koke’e’s dry wilds will increase Aug. 5 when the state Department of Land and Natural Resources reopens rainbow trout fishing in public angling areas. Fishing will be allowed between 5:30 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. through Aug. 20. From then until Sept. 24, fishing will be permitted only on weekends and holidays.

Last year’s trout season was canceled because of critically dry forests in Waimea Canyon. This year, all anglers must check in and out at established stations when fishing at Pu’u Lua Reservoir and the Koke’e ditch system. The checkpoint for the latter, plus access through Camp Ten and Halemanu roads, is the Koke’e Park headquarters.

The daily bag limit for trout fishing is seven fish per licensed angler.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 227).

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