Federal Funding Headed to Big Island to Protect Kohala Mountain
Federal funds are headed to the Big Island to help protect the forests in Kohala Mountain.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation, or BOR, has awarded $1.9 million to protect forested and wetland habitats from invasive species and replant in riparian corridors. The Department of Land and Natural Resources chairperson Suzanne Case expressed her gratitude for the funding, which will also help protect the island’s fresh water supplies.
“Our forests capture rain and cloud moisture in the high-rainfall Kohala mountains, supplying the region’s water, including ditch systems that bring water from the mauka forest to farms, ranches, and lo‘i kalo (taro farm) agricultural users,” Case said. “When hooved animals strip vegetation down to bare ground, the steep mountainsides in these ancient forests rapidly erode, depositing muddy sediment onto beaches and near-shore coral reefs.”
The funding will also benefit endangered plants and wildlife, sequester carbon, and will help keep streams flowing and healthy. It will help attain the State’s Sustainable Hawaiʻi Initiative watershed goal to protect 30% of priority watershed forests by 2030.
Currently, only 17% of native forests statewide are protected from the topmost threats, according to a press release from DLNR. The project is in collaboration with the Kohala Watershed Partnership, a voluntary collaboration of major landowners and land managers that have partnered to protect the forests across the mountain range since 2003.
The BOR is supporting the project through its WaterSMART program, which works cooperatively with states and other local entities to increase water supplies. Case said DLNR was eligible for the
“DLNR was eligible for this grant because of matching State funds provided by the legislature for watershed protection. This allows us to extend State funding for healthier forests, communities, and more local job opportunities to protect our ʻāina, on our path to achieving our 30X30 watershed goal,” Case added.
Lawmakers also expressed their delight and appreciation for the funding. Sen. Lorraine Inouye said projects like the WaterSMART program are essential for the restoration and protection of native forests and continued efforts to meet the 30X30 watershed initiative.
Inouye and Rep. David Tarnas assisted in gaining approval for state matching funds. Both say that improving the health of our forests, watershed, and water resources, is critical for both the long-term health of our economy and the ʻāina.
“I am proud that the legislature was able to provide matching funds to DLNR, which allowed the department to become eligible for this grant,” Inouye said. “It will go a long way in furthering the quality of the Kohala Mountains’ natural resources.”
Tarnas said leveraging state funding to secure federal funding is an important strategy for state agencies to increase support for these important programs.
“Protecting watersheds does protect drinking water supplies,” he said. “Every community in the Kohala mountain watershed, which uses public drinking water, should be grateful for this support.”