South Kona Forest Protected Under Conservation Easement
A recent acquisition of a 1,000-acre conservation easement in South Kona means that the Department of Land and Natural Resources, United States Forest Service, and the Hokukano Ranch now protects over 10,000-acres of native Hawaiian forest from development.
The newly acquired land is in the area known as the Ka’awaloa Forest. The forest, along with Kealakekua Heritage Ranch, which is located about 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona, make up the first two conservation easements that the DLNR has held under the Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program.
Conservation easements mean that development is permanently restricted in the area, maintaining 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.”
Previously, when the land was under different ownership, the county approved a development plan for the construction of 500 residential lots and an Arnold Palmer golf course. Instead of the development, the new and current owners decided to protect the property permanently through conservation easements.
Through the Forest Legacy Program, important forest lands that are threatened by conversion to non-forest users are identified. Once identified, the program provides funds to state agencies that are equipped to protect them permanently.
In cooperation with private landowners, the Forest Legacy Program aims to remove the pressure of development from forested lands and increase sustainable forest management.
According to the DLNR and the U.S. Forest Service, a rare native forest will be protected in the 1,000 acre Ka’awaloa area. It provides products to the local community, preserves habitat for native birds, and safeguards water quality in the primary watershed that drains into Kealakekua Bay.
Funds for the Forest Legacy Program are obtained through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses a portion of offshore oil and gas royalties. Later this year, the funds are set to expire but have the possibility of being reauthorized through current legislation.
Lands being protected must have an implemented forest management plan that will demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. The current owners of the land are re-investing in the forest and encouraging the regeneration of Hawai’i’s native trees after a nearly 200-year history of timber extraction.