(BIVN) – The Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources is told four men to “cease and desist” removing lava rock from the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano.
According a media release from state officials, the four Hawai‘i County men “all admitted their roles in the unlawful removal of tons of lava rock from the Mauna Loa Forest Reserve.” Officers with the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement believe the men were “cracking large chunks of pāhoehoe lava, stacking it in place, and then taking it out of the forest reserve by the truckload to sell to hotels and homes for rock boundary and decorative walls and fireplaces.”
DLNR says that “at one time at least one of the men had a permit from the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) to conduct commercial rock collection, but officers say it expired about eight years ago and was not reissued.”
“It appears they go in, crack the lava – all the flat rocks, the really nice ones, and when they don’t see any law enforcement officers around, they’ll load it up into pickup trucks and onto flatbed trailers and just leave,” said DOCARE Officer Edwin Shishido, led the investigation into the alleged theft of state natural resources. “These guys were getting anywhere from $800 to $1000 for a load of rock, often selling it to commercial properties and residential homeowners in Waikoloa and other places on the Big Island.”
According to the Hawaii DLNR:
The Mauna Loa Forest Reserve features a sweeping vista of lava on the eastern slopes of Mauna Loa. Signs at the entrance road and on the mountain clearly prohibit any commercial activity without a permit, including “Damaging or removal of natural features, historic, or prehistoric remains.”
State conservation officers acknowledge that there is a seemingly endless supply of lava on the mountain, but say lava rock removal by creating new roads off the main road and physically cracking the rock is damaging the natural resources and scarring the landscape. They say they’ve consulted with Hawaiian cultural practitioners who disagree with the practice of making money off natural resources that they say should be left alone and in place.
Proposed revisions to rules for State Forest Reserves were discussed at a half dozen public meetings last month, and the period for public comment closed on Friday in advance of the new rules package being presented to the Hawai‘i Board of Land and Natural Resources at an upcoming meeting. The revised rules, like the current ones, make it illegal to remove natural resources from a forest reserve for commercial purposes without having a written permit. They also limit the total dollar value of materials that can be taken with a permit, and the amount of time in which removal can occur.
Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on the planet, but it is not erupting.