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Don't be short-sighted about protecting natural resources

By Greg Pietsch and John Morgan

LAST UPDATED: 2:23 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

As landowners and business people in Hawaii, we are concerned about a threat to the natural resources we depend upon for all our lifestyles and livelihood in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Disproportionate slashes to spending on conservation programs are being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives. We are grateful that our Hawaii congressional delegation was not among the supporters of similar cuts earlier this year.

In cooperation with government agencies and nonprofit land-protection organizations, Hawaii landowners have saved thousands of acres of precious lands and waters across these islands. We couldn't do this without help. Federal government conservation programs have provided some of the aid landowners have needed to keep some of Hawaii's most treasured landscapes intact.

One proposal in a funding measure now making its way through the House would cut funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by 86 percent from 2010 levels. The LWCF supports programs that create parks, protect forests and wetlands, restore coasts and waterways and preserve cultural and historic treasures.

Created by Congress in 1964, the LWCF uses a small portion of offshore oil drilling fees — not a single taxpayer dollar. From Kilauea Point on Kauai to Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii island, this program has provided more than $150 million over the past four decades to protect some of our most treasured places while also supporting clean water supplies, local jobs and working farms and ranches. Another proposal in this same bill would cut funding for the federal Forest Legacy program by 93 percent. Forest Legacy funds have been used in Hawaii to help keep working ranches intact rather than being subdivided, sold and developed.

We thought that by creating programs like the LWCF and Forest Legacy, we had decided long ago that we owe it to our children to care for the natural and cultural resources that have been so important to Hawaii's economy and way of life. But now some in Congress seem willing to consider dramatic budget cuts to the programs that protect those resources.

No matter where you live in Hawaii or what your political affiliation is, if the dramatic cuts to conservation are enacted, they will affect not only you, but also the future we hand to the next generation.

It's fair that environmental programs share the burden of reducing our national debt, but let's be sensible. These programs constitute only about 1 percent of the total federal budget. They are clearly not the cause of the nation's budget instability, nor will making deep cuts to these programs solve the budget crisis. Disproportionate cuts of 80 percent or 90 percent for conservation programs are both short-sighted and threaten an economic engine that is critical to our state.

In Hawaii, the environment is the economy. Furthermore, investment in conservation provides residents and visitors with endless recreational opportunities, clean water to drink, productive land for farming and forestry, and natural buffers that protect communities from storms, flooding and runoff.

We urge U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa to remain steadfast in their convictions, and we urge Sens. Dan Inouye and Dan Akaka to keep the promise to future generations to pass on a Hawaii and a nation that is at least as healthy and beautiful as that which was passed on to us.

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