Categorized | Environment, Featured

Abercrombie unveils plan to protect water sources

Hawaii’s forests provide water for human use. Koolau mountains on Oahu. (Photo courtesy of DLNR)


In an effort to save Hawaii’s forests and protect our water sources, Gov. Neil Abercrombie has announced a comprehensive action plan titled, “The Rain Follows the Forests.”

“Hawaii’s forests are in trouble – more than half of our forests have been overrun because they were victim to the most damaging invasive species,” Abercrombie said. “We must work to reverse the grave decline of the islands’ life-giving forests to sustain and enrich current and future generations.”

Currently, only 10 percent of the priority watershed forests are protected; a level of management that has taken 40 years to achieve. The Rain Follows the Forests, which is derived from a common Hawaiian saying (Hahai no ka ua i ka ulula au) calls for necessary stewardship of natural resources.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has made securing the future of our water supply a priority and created this action plan to meet the following goals:

* Remove or contain damaging invasive weeds that threaten priority areas. Invasive weeds degrade native forests; some invasive plants also consume more water than indigenous species. For example, a forest of alien strawberry guava trees can evaporate 27 percent more water than native ohia forests.

* Monitor and control other forest threats including fires, predators, and plant diseases

* Restore and plant native species in priority areas and buffer areas

* Establish benchmarks and monitor success of the on-the-ground actions

* Educate residents and visitors about the cultural, economic, and environmental importance of conserving native forests

* Promote consistent and informed land use decision-making that protects watersheds

These goals aim to double the amount of protected watershed areas in 10 years. It will require approximately $11 million per year and would provide for more than 150 new natural resource careers.

“I am committed to working with the Legislature on finding creative ways to fund this plan,” Abercrombie said. “Investing in the protection of fresh water sources must be the highest priority for Hawaii’s public leaders and the Department of Land and Natural Resources.”

The proposed state funding for the Plan will be leveraged by working with watershed partnerships, alliances that protect and restore our mauka forests across property boundaries.

Meeting the goals of the Plan will be essential to the success of realizing the vision for sustainability provided by Abercrombie’s “A New Day In Hawaii” Comprehensive Plan.

Paul Conry, administrator of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said, “Today, with a growing population, declining forests and water supplies, and climate change accelerating those declines, the need to adequately protect and expand our forests remains is even greater.”

DLNR Chairperson William Aila, Jr. added, “Protecting forests benefits more than our water supply. As a fisherman, I know that mauka and makai are connected. Without forests to hold the soil, heavy rains will cause erosion that pollutes our beaches, reefs, and fisheries. Everything is affected downstream.”

“Investing in our most precious natural resource makes economic sense for agriculture, environment and our future drinking source,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the Water Land and Housing Committee. “We need to be responsible and diligent in pursuing the protection of our finite water supply.”

Securing funding will also require partnerships from private, federal, and other sources.

“We must work together to ensure that we all benefit from healthy watershed forests, regardless of land ownership,” said Lisa Ferentinos, coordinator of the DOFAW Watershed Partnerships Program. “Managing mauka lands as partnerships mean threats are addressed more economically since we pool resources and expertise and reduce redundancy, while increasing the capacity and desire of landowners to protect their forests.”

Board of Land and Natural Resources member and senior scientist and cultural advisor for The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii Sam Ohu Gon III said, “Hawaiian traditions regard these mauka forests as sacred, and the plants and animals within them as our aumakua – our elders and ancestors. Damage and loss of these forests chips away at the foundation of our cultural identity.”

Forests also absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, reducing Hawaii’s greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason the Plan includes actions to increase Hawaii’s ability to withstand hotter and drier trends in climate.

Studies have shown that since 1990, statewide winter rainfall has been 12 percent lower and continues to decline.

UH Manoa Professor of Geography Tom Giambelluca said, “Temperatures are steadily rising, while cloud cover lessens – meaning more water is evaporating. On the ground, this means lower stream flows and less ground water recharge. Forests are a major part of the water equation because they intercept water from the clouds and reduce direct runoff.”

According to James Roumasset, a professor of Economics at UH Manoa who has conducted studies measuring the forests’ importance to Hawaii’s economy, Hawaii’s forests are huge economic assets.

“The Koolau mountain forests alone have been valued at up to $14 billion. Groundwater recharge is the primary factor; however the forests are also important for water quality, climate control, biodiversity, and cultural, aesthetic, recreational, and commercial values,” Roumasset said.

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