(HONOLULU) – The illegal burning of Christmas trees at Ahu O Laka (Kāne’ohe Bay sandbar) is not only a violation of State of Hawai‘i Administrative Rules (HAR), this year, it was exacerbated by non-compliance with COVID-19 mandates. Photos on social media sites show large numbers of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder without masks, as tree-fueled fires burn in the background.
DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) Chief Jason Redulla said, “We received a tip about tree burnings on Saturday and dispatched DOCARE officers to He‘eia Kea Small Boat Harbor. Honolulu Police officers were already on the scene and boats were already headed in from the sandbar. Unfortunately, we could not identify any of the individuals involved in these illegal and disrespectful activities.”
The burning of trees after the holidays has been going on for years. Ahu O Laka is under the jurisdiction of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and is a wildlife sanctuary. DOFAW rules state: “§13-126-32 Fires. No person shall discard any lighted objects, or start or maintain a fire, including use of portable stoves or cooking devices.” Additionally, ground and open fires are not permitted on any Hawai‘i beaches.
Redulla added, “People are actually hauling trees to Ahu O Laka by boat and the burning of trees is detrimental to the sandbar and the marine surrounding ecosystem. Moreover, numerous photos on social media show these people clearly ignoring current COVID-19 mandates, which on O‘ahu restrict gatherings to fewer than five people and require masking when in close-proximity to others.”
The sandbar tree bonfires are a good reminder that DOCARE relies greatly on the expeditious reporting of natural and cultural resources violations. There are two ways to report incidents:
643-DLNR (3567) or via the free DLNRTip app available for both iPhone and Android users. “Clearly, our officers cannot be everywhere, all the time, and the faster we receive reports about illegal activities, the better chance we have of responding in time to educate violators, and when necessary to cite them. All we ask is for everyone to respect the ‘aina.”
Many social media postings did express outrage over the latest tree burnings.