Deer woes return for local farmers as Maui County drought intensifies
For the third straight month, Maui County rain gauges were below half of what’s average, and some local farmers are seeing the impacts.
Ryan Earehart of Okoʻa Farms, a family-owned business in Lower Kula, said deer began jumping his fence again about 10 days ago, ruining crops and searching for water.
“We are working on our fencing,” he said. “We’re spending a lot more money in these past couple months. The deer pressure is a big issue.”
Earehart is a partner in the 28-acre farm, which has about 18 to 20 acres in active cultivation for farmers markets, brick-and-mortar retailers and wholesale deliveries.
In the last year, Earehart said Okoʻa Farms lost $30,000 to deer damage. Separately, he’s spent about $12,000 on fencing, with another $18,000 to $20,000 needed to finish securing the perimeter on the main farm.
Extreme drought recently developed in Maui County and the Big Island, according to the latest National Weather Service Drought Information Statement. US Drought Monitor data from a year ago shows no drought in Maui County and only some dry conditions on the Big Island.
The ongoing presence of feral deer has made things worse due to their excessive foraging, the statement published Friday said.
A Molokaʻi observer reported an increase in insect pests affecting fruit orchards. Also, satellite-based vegetation health data indicated deteriorating conditions over the western half of Molokaʻi.
Very poor pasture conditions were reported in Kīhei, the statement said.
All of the Maui County gauges had rainfall totals for 2022 through the end of March below 50% of average, according to an April 6 report by Kevin Kodama, senior service hydrologist for NWS in Honolulu.
In fact, some March rainfall totals marked new lows.
The Hāna Airport, Kahului Airport, Kaunakakai, Kahakuloa, Makapulapai and Molokaʻi No. 1 rain gauges had their lowest March totals since 2008, the report said. The Pukalani gauge had its lowest March total since 2001.
The prolonged dryness from early January through mid-March has intensified drought over portions of Maui County and the Big Island, Kodama said.
For Maui County, severe drought, or the D2 category, recently intensified to extreme drought along the lower leeward slopes of Haleakalā between Māʻalaea and Wailea.
Severe drought also covered most of the remaining areas of Maui County, including Maui’s central valley, the Upcountry region, the lower leeward West Maui Mountains, Molokaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, and southeast Lānaʻi.
Maui County Department of Water Supply toward the end of March echoed its request for voluntary water conservation for West Maui residents and businesses. Low surface water levels due to the dry conditions have decreased the available supply of water that can be treated for public use.
However, the return of trade wind showers helped ease drought conditions along the windward portions of the state, NWS statement said. Drought in the D2 category lifted to the D1 category over the windward slopes of Maui.
Last month, the United States Geological Survey rain gauge atop Puʻu Kukui had the highest monthly total of 20.71 inches (54 percent of average) and the highest daily total of 7.88 inches during the March 30 heavy rain event.
Puʻu Kukui had the highest year-to-date total of 26.80 inches, but this was just 28% of average, Kodama said.
Based on the rainfall outlook, there is a chance that the current drought conditions may ease in the short term, the NWS said. However, drought will likely intensify during the summer, especially in the leeward areas of the state.
The next Long-Lead Hawaiian Islands Outlook by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center, which provides a local drought outlook, will be issued April 21.