Outgoing DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case honored by Hawai‘i Senate
This story was updated at 4:19 p.m. Dec. 9.
It’s not everyday the Hawai‘i Senate honors the outgoing leader of a state department; in fact, it is rather rare. But when a department chief has the track record like that of Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case, state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who represents District 1 on the Big Island, said the recognition is more than appropriate.
Case completes her second term as head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and also chairwoman of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources at the end of this year. Much of her leadership team and Inouye surprised her Friday when they walked in as she prepared for her final meeting as leader of the state Land Board in Honolulu.
Inouye, who leads the state Senate’s Land and Water Committee, presented Case with a large framed certificate during the board meeting after detailing a long list of accomplishments, board service and awards throughout Case’s nearly eight years as the department’s leader. Case is term-limited, having served two consecutive terms in both of her capacities. Her last day is Dec. 31.
She will leave behind a legacy of tremendous accomplishments in the protection and preservation of natural and cultural resources throughout the state. Inouye said Case focused on good government, transparency and inclusion, providing leadership for watershed protection initiatives, marine management, bio-security, food security and renewable energy.
“It was important to me that we officially recognize the service and leadership of Chair Case and the impact she’s had as head of the [Department of Land and Natural Resources],” Inouye said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “Over the years, she led the department with integrity and transparency, and helped to implement initiatives such as watershed protection, marine management, biosecurity, food security and renewable energy. The important work that she did as a protector of our precious island resources will be felt for years to come.”
Friday was an emotional day for Case as she led her final Land Board meeting.
“This is a great honor and I’ve so appreciated working with you (Sen. Inouye) and all the members of the Senate and of the Legislature,” she said after receiving the certificate from Inouye. “I’m so happy our team has been so successful in working with the Senate and the House. It only works right when we can all talk to each other, respectfully disagree when we disagree, work hard and try to work out any differences.”
Case, who was born in Hilo and grew up on the Big Island and O‘ahu, was appointed in April 2015 by then-Gov. David Ige as chairwoman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. She was reappointed for a second term in December 2018.
Case is also chairwoman of the State Commission on Water Resource Management, co-chairperson of the Governor’s Sustainable Hawai‘i Initiative and served on the Hawai‘i Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Commission, Hawai‘i Invasive Species Committee and Hawai‘i Drought Council. She also was a member of the Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture and the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission.
As leader of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, she oversees 11 divisions and four offices with a combined staff of nearly 1,000 people and a budget of $159 million. She directs divisions that steward everything to do with natural and cultural resources in the islands, from forestry and wildlife, coastal regulation and water resources to historic preservation, boating and ocean recreation, conservation enforcement and state parks.
She also had oversight of the acquisition of the 116,000-acre Kahuku Ranch, which is now part of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park; Hawai‛i Nature Conservancy preserves statewide at Kaʻū Forest Reserve, Kamehame Beach, Kona Hema, Waikamoi, Puʻu Kukui, Kapunakea, Moʻomomi, Honouliuli and Wainiha; and Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on the slopes of Maunakea and the O‘ahu Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Case also was crucial in the creation of watershed partnerships for forested management throughout the state, growth of networks of local communities working to restore their near-shore marine resources and implementation of large-scale projects to remove invasive algae from the state’s reefs and coastal areas.
After graduating from high school, Case attended Williams College and Stanford University, where she graduated with honors. She also has a law degree from Hastings College of the Law at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was a member of the Hastings Law Journal and practiced real estate transactions law at the law firm of Pettit and Martin in San Francisco.
For 28 years prior to joining the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Case served in leadership positions with The Nature Conservancy, including as Hawai‘i Program executive director from 2001 to 2015. During her tenure, she implemented dozens of initiatives in many Western U.S. states and around the Pacific.
During her years at The Nature Conservancy, she implemented conservation projects in California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Hawaiʻi and was instrumental in helping establish conservation programs in Palau, Pohnpei, China, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, as well as the Palmyra Atoll nature preserve and research station.
“The Hawai‘i State Senate recognizes and commends Chair Suzanne R. Case for her commitment to enhance, protect, conserve and manage Hawai‘i’s unique and limited natural, cultural and historic resources held in public trust for current and future generations of the people of Hawai‘i nei, and its visitors, in partnership with others from the public and private sectors,” says the certificate Inouye presented to Case on Friday. “With deepest respect and gratitude, we extend our warmest aloha and best wishes on your next journey.”