PUNA, Hawaii: A 24 year old tour guide from Hilo was arrested by Hawaii law enforcement officers on Tuesday night for conducting an alleged illegal lava tour over closed state lands.
Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers arrested Joel D. Scharer, Jr., for trespassing within the Kahaualea Natural Area Reserve, which is off limits due to hazardous conditions related to ongoing volcanic activity in the area. From DLNR:
An investigation conducted by DOCARE officers resulted in their arrest of Joel D. Scharer, Jr., age 24, of Hilo. The investigation revealed that Scharer was a tour guide who had led a tour into the closed natural area reserve. Scharer was transported to the Hilo Police Station for booking. He is being charged with the following: criminal trespass in the 2nd degree which is a petty misdemeanor, and reckless endangering in the 2nd degree, prohibited entry into a Natural area reserve and illegal commercial activities within the natural area reserve, all of which are misdemeanor offenses. DLNR media release on Feb. 12, 2015
Scharer’s Facebook profile says he is management with the ‘Ahiu Hawaii tour company, which has taken a defiant stance towards the state’s prohibition on tours of any kind in Kahaualea. In December, two other tour guides were arrested while working for the company.
On December 18th, ‘Ahiu manager Orion Enocencio sent a letter to Hawaii County Civil Defense and Fire Department, state DLNR, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, declaring his intention to continue with public lava tours, even giving the GPS coordinates for two Landing “Rescue Zones” in case of emergency. The cordial letter read, in part:
… we have opened several of our properties to accommodate the overwhelming calls of guests that DO NOT want to see rocks at the Pahoa Transfer Station, but want to see and witness the beautiful event of flowing lava. We are expecting an average of 200 guests per week accessing the trail.
The trail in particular is located adjacent to forests Wa’o Kele o Puna Forest Reserve and Kahauale’a Natural Area Reserve (off South Glenwood Rd area). This trail leading out to the lava field is clearly marked in case an emergency rescue is needed. Provided are GPS Coordinates of two Landing “Rescue Zones.” We are Informing guests of these areas in case of an emergency. These “Rescue Zones” are already equipped with rations of food, water, and first aid supplies. Also, these “Rescue Zones” may safely land a Helicopter.Orion Enocencio in a letter dated Dec. 18, 2014
Enocencio has defended the lava tours as his right “to practice our religion, cultural rights, and subsistence.”
DLNR has not changed its policy since December. “The safety of the public remains our top priority,” said Carty S. Chang, Interim DLNR Chairperson, in a media release. “Illegal commercial tours into areas closed by volcanic activity are dangerous to both the public as well as rescue responders. Violators will face citation or arrest.”
DLNR says if you want to report suspected trespass or illegal commercial activity within the closed Kahaualea NAR as well as the closed Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve call DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) at 643-DLNR.