President Obama and Senator Brian Schatz at the White House last week

President Obama and Senator Brian Schatz at the White House last week

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Pacific Islands Parks Act was given an important hearing at a key Senate committee today.

The legislation, which was introduced by Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, would direct the National Park Service to complete studies of three designated sites in the state of Hawai‘i. That includes a special resource study along the Ka‘u Coast on Hawaii Island, as well as the northern coast of Maui, and the southeastern coast of Kauai.

The bill would also study Midway Atoll, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Palau.

July 31 – Pacific Islands Parks Act advances in Senate

The Act went before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today. Senator Schatz is a member of the committee and serves as the chair of the Water and Power Subcommittee. The freshman U.S. Senator has framed the act as opportunity to increase tourism in Hawaii. The Aloha State is currently the home of seven national parks, which were responsible for over $259 million in revenue for the state in 2011.

“The Pacific Island Parks Act is making good progress in the United States Senate. This bill would improve our local economy, preserve our parks, and increase tourism in Hawai‘i,” said Senator Brian Schatz in a media release. “Hawai‘i is home to some of the most incredible and unique sites, many of which have been designated as national parks. By passing this legislation, we would be opening the door to protecting additional sites, while also contributing to tourism and economic growth. I will continue to work with my colleagues, including Chairman Ron Wyden, to make this bill a reality.”

The Pacific Island Parks Act was backed by the Department of the Interior during the hearing. The Ka’u resource study was given support in a statement delivered by Stephanie Toothman, associate director of Cultural Resources, Partnerships, and Science at the National Park Service.

Section (3)(a)(A) of S. 618 requires the Secretary to conduct a special resource study of the Ka’u Coast on the big island of Hawaii. The National Park Service (NPS) conducted a reconnaissance survey of the Ka’u Coast in 2006. The survey indicated thatsignificant cultural features, geological forms and coastal-marine natural resources ofthe study area are each represented to some extent within other national parks in the state of Hawaii. However, in no other location do these features coexist in such a long and uninterrupted coastal landscape with continuous scenic, interpretive, and recreational integrity. Compared to existing coastal managed areas within the state, it is uniquely wild, yet accessible.Based upon the significance of the resources in the Ka’u study area, and the current integrity and intact condition of these resources, the reconnaissance survey resulted in a preliminary finding of national significance and suitability. The Department supports a special resource study of the Ka’u coast.

Toothman said the Department does not support conducting a special resource study of Midway Atoll because of the various designations already covering the area.

Senator Schatz’s Pacific Islands Parks Act was praised by the Trust for Public Land, Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, Nature Conservancy, and the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust in a media release issued Wednesday.

Lea Hong, Hawaiian Islands State Director for The Trust for Public Land noted: “Parks are a wise investment, supporting hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor recreational activities that contribute a total of $725.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy, and 6.15 million jobs according to the Outdoor Industry Association. More broadly, outdoor recreation, nature conservation, and historic preservation contribute a total of $1.06 trillion annually to the economy, supporting 8.4 million jobs – or one out every 16 jobs in the U.S.””The Sierra Club appreciates and strongly supports Senator Schatz’s efforts to protect Hawai‘i’s special places,” said Robert D. Harris, Director of the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i. “Recognizing the looming impacts of climate change and sea level rise, this is an important step towards preserving Hawai‘i’s unique cultural and natural heritage, and ensuring our children have amazing beaches and wild places to explore.”

“The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was enacted nearly 50 years ago to use revenues from the extraction of offshore oil and gas to support the conservation of other precious resources – our land and water,” said Suzanne Case, Hawaiʻi State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “The LWCF is the primary federal financing tool to conserve our national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. Legislation like that introduced by Senator Schatz proposes to identify some of those precious resources in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific that are at risk of being lost, but have the potential for protection through the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” concluded Case.

“We support Senator Schatz’s efforts to expand National Parks in Hawai’i because Hawai‘i’s long-term well-being, environmentally, economically, and otherwise, is directly linked to the land and the choices we make about it,” said Ted Clement, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust Executive Director. “Indeed, Hawai’i’s state motto proclaims, ‘The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.’ The proposed legislation will help keep Hawai‘i a world-class destination and highly desirable place to live, work and visit – factors critical to our economy.”