Categorized | Environment

More than 10,000 acres of forest now protected


More than 10,000 acres of native Hawaiian forest are now protected from development by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), U.S. Forest Service, and the Hokukano Ranch.

This follows the recent acquisition of a 1,000-acre conservation easement in South Kona.

The area known as the Kaawaloa Forest, together with the adjacent Kealakekua Heritage Ranch, represent the first two conservation easements held by DLNR under the Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program.

These conservation easements will permanently restrict development and maintain sustainable harvest levels.

“The partnership we have with DLNR is invaluable as we look to restore and protect these crucial resources,” said U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore. “We are excited for DLNR to pick up this conservation easement and add to our total of 47,055 protected acres on the Big Island.”

The Kaawaloa Forest and Kealakekua Heritage Ranch are located approximately 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona.

Under the previous ownership, the County of Hawaii had approved a development plan for the construction of 500 residential lots and an Arnold Palmer golf course. The current owners decided instead to permanently protect the properties through conservation easements.

The Forest Legacy Program identifies important forest lands that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses, and provides funds to state agencies that are equipped to protect these lands permanently.

Working together with private landowners, the Forest Legacy Program looks to remove development pressure from important forest lands and improve sustainable forest management.

The 1,000 acre Kaawaloa Forest protects a rare native forest, provides forest products to the local community, preserves habitat for native birds, and safeguards water quality in the primary watershed draining into Kealakekua Bay.

The federal Forest Legacy funds come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that uses a small portion of offshore oil and gas royalties. The authorization for this fund is currently set to expire in 2015 but can be reauthorized through current legislation. Forest Legacy allows states to utilize the program to either fully or partially fund acquisitions of forest land.

These conservation easement acquisitions represent a “bargain purchase” of the property for less than the appraised value.

The owners in this case often donated the remainder of the value as a charitable gift to the government.

The protection also means implementing a forest management plan that truly demonstrates a commitment to sustainability. Conservation easements are a beneficial tool in protecting forest lands from development permanently.

With the region’s history of nearly 200 years of timber extraction, many of the large trees – specifically koa and sandalwood – were harvested.

Coupled with pressures from grazing animals, many of these forests have not fully recovered and have ultimately suffered a significant loss of forest cover.

With a goal of sustainable management, the current owners are re-investing in the forest and encouraging regeneration of Hawaii’s native trees.

The property also provides a variety of non-timber economic activities, including plant collection, tourism, and hunting.

The Kaawaloa conservation easement will protect ecosystems that support several endemic Hawaiian birds.

Preserving the Kaawaloa Forest, part of the fog-shrouded South Kona cloud forests, will directly contribute to safeguarding the water supply and water quality in a region subject to severe drought.

The parcel is zoned as agriculture and currently allows for subdivision into 20 acre lots.

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