(BIVN) – Federal land conservation efforts on Hawaiʻi Island were highlighted in a recent floor speech made by U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaiʻi) in support of the proposed Natural Resources Management Act.
Senate Bill 47, likely to get a vote in the coming days, is being described as a rare, bipartisan package of more than 100 public lands and water bills. “This is a great example of what the Senate can accomplish when we come together on a bipartisan basis to get things done,” Sen. Hirono said.
The public lands package includes a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, which expired at the end of September.
“Over the past 50 years, the LWCF has provided nearly $250 million in funding for Hawaiʻi to protect some of its most cherished public spaces, including Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, and the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. LWCF funding has also gone toward protecting State and private forests, as well as efforts to protect our native species and watersheds.”
Sen. Hirono used the expansion of the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on Hawaiʻi Island as an example of the LWCF benefits. Hirono described last April’s blessing ceremony to mark the sale of the McCandless Ranch to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which was financed through the LWCF to the tune of $22 million. Hirono said:
After a slow, 45-minute ascent up the slopes of Mauna Loa, I saw a beautiful property that the McCandless family had faithfully stewarded over six generations and 100 years. According to Keith Unger, the property’s forests ‘represent some of the most intact and pristine native forests in the state and provide habitat to many of Hawaii’s unique flora and fauna.’
During the time I spent with Keith and his family, their passion for the land and the plant and animal species that call it home was quite evident. Keith shared his family’s efforts to conserve and rehabilitate the ʻalalā – the critically endangered Hawaiian crow. The McCandless Ranch was the last place the ʻalalā was seen in the wild.
In the late 1990s, the McCandless Ranch entered into a conservation partnership with the Fish & Wildlife Service to protect the ʻalalā. When Keith decided to sell a portion of his land years ago, he wanted to find what he called a ‘like minded buyer, someone who would continue our legacy of conservation and well managed forests. This was easier said than done. The majority of our buyer prospects were loggers or developers.’
Keith and McCandless Ranch began talking with the Fish & Wildlife Service about selling a portion of their property to add to the National Wildlife Refuge. Through his past experience working with the Agency, he ‘knew that their conservation philosophy aligned with ours.’ The Fish & Wildlife Service began seeking money to acquire the property in 2011 and made it their top priority for acquisition in the Pacific region for fiscal years 2013 through 2015. Funding to acquire the McCandless Ranch became possible because of the collaborative work to develop the State of Hawaiʻi’s ‘Island Forests at Risk’ proposal. Developed through engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, ‘Island Forests at Risk’ was a comprehensive proposal to protect endangered or threatened species, safeguard water resources, improve ecosystems, and preserve Native Hawaiian cultural resources. This proposal included a number of land acquisitions to add to existing national parks and wildlife refuges in Hawaiʻi, including the McCandless Ranch addition to Hakalau.
Between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, according to Hirono, nearly $40 million was awarded to acquire land to add to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Haleakala National Park, and Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. LWCF also funds the Fish & Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, as well as the Forest Legacy Program.
The LWCF provides numerous downstream benefits to local economies, Hirono said, turning to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National park for her next illustration:
In 2003, for example, the LWCF funded the $22 million addition of Kahuku Ranch to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park – almost doubling the park’s size. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is a pillar of our tourism economy in Hawaiʻi. It contributes nearly half a million dollars every day – or $166 million annually – to the economy and attracts approximately 2 million visitors per year. That is just one park.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park has also benefited from programs and organizations like KUPU, that educate and inspire youth to become stewards of our natural resources, Hirono says. The Natural Resources Management Act will include the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps bill, which supports programs like KUPU.
The Natural Resources Management Act also includes legislation to improve U.S. “capacity to monitor and respond to volcanic activity across the country.” Hirono said:
Last year, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, HVO, was instrumental in studying and responding to the 3-month-long eruption of Kīlauea on the Big Island. The eruption devastated a number of communities, destroying more than 700 homes and displacing thousands of people, including United States Geological Survey staff and scientists who operated out of the HVO facility in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Over the coming months and years, impacted homes, farms, and even the observatory will need to be rebuilt.
At the same time, it will be critically important to have the most updated monitoring and communications technology to alert and protect impacted communities from future events. Our legislation will unify and connect the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory with the other four observatories across the country into one national volcano early warning system. It will also create a Volcano Watch Office that will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide continuous situational awareness of all active volcanoes in the United States and its territories, including Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes on Hawaiʻi Island.