Since August, Deborah dela Cruz has had to reorganize her life around the crowing of roosters, getting to bed hours earlier than usual so she can catch some quality sleep before a cacophonous chorus jolts her awake like clockwork at 3 a.m.maui locator badge

It only takes one rooster to pierce the silence of night for dozens more to join in, setting off a crescendo of noise that does not stop for hours.

The Lanai City resident said she tried earplugs and sleeping pills. She even wrote a letter, which she said went unanswered, to Kurt Matsumoto, president of Pulama Lanai, the management company that oversees billionaire tech mogul Larry Ellison’s 98% ownership stake in the island. 

None of it has stopped the gawky birds with russet plumage from carrying on with their nightly, nerve-fraying noise disturbance.

“It’s a nightmare,” Dela Cruz said. “It’s like living in a zoo. The noise is just horrendous.”

A token of country life, roosters evicted from the Lanai Community Garden have infiltrated neighborhoods, stirring up a fraught debate over the right to raise noisy fowl and the right to a good night’s sleep. The Blackthorn Orphans/Flickr.com

Since August, backyards in Lanai City have absorbed a population of raucous roosters shooed out of the Lanai Community Garden, which leases small plots of land to residents who want to grow their own food. The only chickens permitted in the community garden are egg-laying hens kept for personal consumption.

What prompted Pulama Lanai to start enforcing a preexisting ban on roosters in the community garden is unclear. 

But the result has brought farm noise into bedrooms, stoking a culture clash between residents who regard roosters as an emblem of rural island life and those who consider the birds a nuisance that cause too much racket.

Some chickens ousted from the garden have been let loose into the wild, stoking separate fears of a feral chicken boom.

In an email to Maui County Council member Yuki Lei Sugimura, Lanai resident Peggy Fink, a librarian, pleaded for a solution.

“Why should any neighbor be allowed to wake all his neighbors repeatedly in the middle of the night?” she wrote. “If it was honking horns or shooting guns, the police could take action, right? Why not roosters?”

Maui County animal nuisance laws do not govern rooster crowing, only noise from dogs and equine animals that bark, bay, cry or howl.

So Sugimura said she’s exploring new county legislation to regulate rooster noise in neighborhoods, similar to Oahu’s animal nuisance ordinance that prohibits animal noise that’s continuous for at least 10 minutes or intermittent for at least 30 minutes.

Pulama Lanai refused to answer questions about the rooster issue, saying in a prepared statement that Maui Police can assist residents with noise complaints over the recent influx of noisy fowl in neighborhoods.

At a community meeting, Fink said police told her to invest in a decibel meter so she can measure the sound of the rooster noise and use it as evidence. She hasn’t purchased a meter yet but she keeps audio recordings of late-night crowing on her cell phone.

“If I walk down the street, they don’t want to talk to me about affordable housing, they want to talk about the chickens.” — Maui County Councilman Gabe Johnson

Lanai Today, the island’s monthly newspaper and only dedicated news source, reported in August that Pulama Lanai, which owns the community garden as well as the newspaper, said the rooster evictions came about amid reports of illegal cockfights and chickens being tethered and killed in the garden.

No one has been arrested for cockfighting on Lanai in the last 20 years, according to Maui Police Department spokeswoman Alana Pico.

Dennis Velasco, a hobbyist chicken farmer who’s raising about 50 chickens in his yard, said he hasn’t seen any evidence of cockfighting on the island. He certainly isn’t involved in chicken fights, he said.

“People are saying there’s chicken fighting but where’s the proof? Where’s the evidence?” he said. “And why am I paying the price for your assumptions? It’s like all of a sudden, because I own chickens, I’m a criminal.”

Velasco, who’s raised hens and roosters since he was a kid, said the uproar over backyard poultry farming is emblematic of a broader effort to suppress certain aspects of local culture.

It’s mostly newcomers to the island who are protesting the rooster noise, according to Velasco, who prizes the just-laid eggs and chicken dinners his flock provides to him. 

“You said (the island) was beautiful before you lived here,” Velasco said. “Now you live here and all of a sudden it’s not beautiful anymore because people own chickens? Why don’t you go back where you came from?”

Maui County Councilman Gabe Johnson said he supports residents who raise backyard chickens but would like to see Pulama Lanai designate land elsewhere for this purpose to alleviate tensions among neighbors. Gabe Johnson

Even before the community garden evictions, Velasco said he moved his chickens home from the garden when the lease for a garden plot went up. 

Now his backyard is home to about 50 birds, including some he absorbed from another hobbyist chicken farmer who had nowhere else to keep his flock after roosters got kicked out of the community garden.

None of his neighbors have complained about his birds — at least not to his face, Velasco said.

“I’m a chicken lover, like somebody who loves dogs or horses or fish,” he said. “I just like looking at them and eating them and eating the eggs. I like that I can just live off my birds. I don’t have to go to the store and buy chickens.”

Maui County Councilman Gabe Johnson, who lives on Lanai, said raising chickens is a way for residents to maintain a measure of food sovereignty on an island that depends on a weekly barge to ship in almost everything local people consume.

A farmer himself, Johnson said he’d like to see Pulama Lanai dedicate land somewhere else on the island for chicken farming if the company doesn’t want to allow roosters in the community garden.

Whatever the path forward, Johnson said finding a resolution is critical.

“People have come to my house over this,” Johnson said. “They’ve knocked on my door. They sent me emails. If I walk down the street, they don’t want to talk to me about affordable housing, they want to talk about the chickens.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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