Oahu's Honouliuli Forest Reserve now state-protected
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
KUNIA — More than 3,500 acres of lowland forest in the Wai'anae Range that are a prime source of O'ahu's drinking water and home to dozens of endangered species are now protected thanks to a purchase involving a federal, state and private partnership.
The Honouliuli Forest Reserve was purchased by the Trust For Public Land from the James Campbell Co. LLC and added to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' forest reserve for watershed and habitat protection.
The reserve served as a backdrop to a gathering in the Kunia foothills of the mountain range yesterday as about 200 people celebrated the completion of the five-year effort.
Dignitaries, staff of state and federal agencies, private organizations and volunteers attended, including U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, state Rep. Marcus Oshiro and Tad Davis, the Army deputy assistant secretary for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health.
The Trust For Public Land raised $4.3 million for the property: $2.7 million from the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program, $627,000 from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Recovery Land Acquisition Program and $980,000 from the Hawai'i Legacy Land Conservation Fund. The fund gets 10 percent of Hawai'i's real estate conveyance tax.
"The most important reason why it's worth preserving is because it feeds O'ahu's largest drinking water aquifer ," said Lea Hong, Hawaiian Islands program director for the Trust For Public Land. "The water we drink and use to water our plants and grow our crops comes from the Pearl Harbor aquifer, which is fed by this watershed at the Hono- uliuli Forest Reserve."
The reserve is also home to 35 threatened and endangered species, including 16 found nowhere else in the world, Hong said. The O'ahu 'elepaio, a bird that is a symbol of Hawaiian canoe making, lives there, along with the endangered "singing" kahuli tree snail, she said.
The goal of the Trust For Public Land is to conserve land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and other natural places.
In Hawai'i, it has helped preserve such places as Moanalua Valley, Pūpūkea-Paumalu and Ma'o Organic Farm. The Honouliuli purchase is among the organization's largest on O'ahu.
Speakers at the event thanked the many people who worked to bring about the sale and preservation.
But Laura Thielen, who heads the DLNR, also challenged the policymakers to find ways to fund the management of the land.
The reserve will open new demands for trails, gathering places and cultural site access, Thielen said.
"We're going to need your help," she said. "You did such a wonderful job on the acquisition and I'd like to challenge all of you to spend the next 10 years on focusing on the management of these places."
The Army spends about $500,000 a year on management of the land, and an endowment will be established at the Hawai'i Community Foundation to support the state's management there. Pledges to the fund are $295,000 from The Nature Conservancy, $25,000 from the Gill Family Trusts and $25,000 from the Edmund C. Olson Trust.
Tony Gill, of Gill Ewa Lands LLC, spoke for his family about a two-centuries-long journey for the reserve.
Some 200 years ago, the area was a thriving native forest, Gill said. By 150 years ago, with no eye toward conservation, the trees had been taken and the forest devastated. By the time the Campbells took over 130 to 140 years ago, most of the area was grass, he said.
The Campbells began to reforest the area and got help from the government and the Civilian Conservation Corps, he said. Today the mountain range is covered with forest, and water is returning, but the land isn't as it once was, Gill said.
"Starting today and for the next 150 years, the Gill family and the Olson family, working with the state and DOFAW (DLNR's Division of Forestry and Wildlife), will do what we can to replenish the mountainside as it once was with native species," he said, "because that is where our heart is."