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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 18, 2001

Nature group goes statewide

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Nature Conservancy of Hawai'i, with a new office on Kaua'i, now spans the state. The conservation organization has reserves on the six largest islands, with only Kaho'olawe and Ni'ihau outside its influence.

"We've always wanted to be a statewide organization, and this accomplishes that," said outgoing director Rex Johnson.

The addition of the Garden Island was a natural for the Conservancy, even though it has only one small Kaua'i site. It is on Ha'upu Mountain range land owned by Grove Farm Co., and is a nesting ground for the Newell's shearwater.

Kaua'i is the oldest of the major Hawaiian islands, with extremely high rainfall in its mile-high central mountains in and around the Alaka'i Swamp. Its highlands contain dozens of rare species of plants and animals. Much of the forested land is in state ownership, but a substantial amount is privately owned.

Johnson said the conservancy hopes to gain an interest in conservation property it can manage and anticipates joining with other landowners in a watershed partnership, like those it participates in on Maui and Moloka'i.

These partnerships link neighboring landowners together in a common effort to protect native species and ecosystems, as well as the watersheds that provide moisture to the lowlands. The partnerships help minimize jurisdiction issues and problems over boundary lines, he said.

"We believe that that model works very well," Johnson said.

Alan Rietow, the conservancy's Kaua'i field representative, said he has been meeting with landowners, government officials and community groups to determine the island's conservation needs.

He said Kaua'i has a higher percentage of conservancy members than any other island. The opening of the office was made possible through grants from foundations. The field office is on the grounds of Kaua'i Community College.

Although Rietow spends much of his time working with other organizations on weed control and other conservation projects, the establishment of a formal preserve is clearly a key goal.

"We're looking for an anchor site, a project where we can make the biggest difference," said Mark White, director of conservation programs, who supervises the Kaua'i office.

"If we can target private native forest sites that can be protected in conjunction with state efforts, the long-range prospects for successful conservation on Kaua'i will greatly increase," he said.

Johnson said the organization already has identified a few sites in which it might be interested, but he said the conservancy is not yet ready to discuss them.

Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertiser's Kaua'i bureau chief and its science and environment writer. Call him at (808) 245-3074, or e-mail jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.