Watershed protection gets $367K in help
By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By James Gonser
Preservation of about 1 million acres of watershed land in Hawai'i will get a boost this year with an influx of funding earmarked to protect freshwater supplies and native plants and animals.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources last month approved $367,480 in state grants for management of watershed areas throughout the state.
There are nine public-private watershed partnerships statewide. In all, they include: 40 private landowners, organizations ranging from Kamehameha Schools to Hana Ranch, and 24 public agencies that have an interest in the areas, which make up about one-quarter of land statewide.
"Watershed partnerships are a hugely effective structure for cooperatively managing our upland forests," said Suzanne Case, executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai'i. "I think we are really well poised now in Hawai'i to make some really big differences in management."
Hawai'i's forested watersheds are the primary source of our clean water, home to native plants and animals, a foundation of the Hawaiian culture and a cornerstone for our quality of life, according to Peter Young, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Watershed partnerships are now putting up fences and employing field crews to manage the greatest threats to forest resources: feral animals, predators, weeds and other invasive species.
"This is one of the best examples of public-private partnerships that exists," Young said. "It's a great untold story in Hawai'i about how our watersheds are being protected by county, state, federal and private partnership."
On Maui, the East Maui Watershed Partnership yesterday filed a draft environmental assessment to build up to 28 miles of fencing around 13,000 acres of conservation land adjacent to Haleakala National Park and in the Hanawi Natural Area Reserve. The fencing, which will cost about $100,000 per mile and take up to 10 years to install, will keep out feral pigs, which damage ground cover and native plants and introduce invasive weeds.
The area's watershed provides more than 60 billion gallons of water a year for residential, commercial and agricultural uses in upcountry, east and central Maui.
Another boost to conservation efforts is coming by way of the Legacy Lands Act, which last year earmarked 10 percent of funds collected through the state's conveyance tax for land conservation. The tax levy is expected to increase the DLNR's Land Conservation Fund to about $9 million a year.
The first watershed partnership, the East Maui group, was formed in 1991. Before that, protecting watershed land was "hit-and-miss," Case said.
"The watershed partnerships are in various stages of development," Case said. "Some are just getting started implementing their strategic plan so there is a lot of startup funding needed to get those management plans implemented." The plans detail biological information about the areas, prioritize protection efforts and identify environmental threats.
In 1903, the Hawai'i Legislature passed a bill through which the Division of Forestry assumed authority to establish forest reserves for the protection of springs, streams and other water supply sources.
In 2003, Gov. Linda Lingle signed a memorandum of agreement that formed the Hawai'i Association of Watershed Partnerships, putting the independent partnerships under a single umbrella organization.
"We were fortunate that 100 years ago some forward-thinking people established the forest reserve system in Hawai'i," Young said. "One hundred years from now, I expect people will look back at our time and will say the watershed partnerships took that forest reserve process to another level. One was designating the area, now there is an implementation to make sure those areas are preserved and protected."
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