Column: Legacy Lands Program marks 15 years of protecting nature
In Hawaii and nationally, we live in divisive and distrustful times, where belief in policymakers and each other seems to decline daily.
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In Hawaii and nationally, we live in divisive and distrustful times, where belief in policymakers and each other seems to decline daily. But there is hope. Reflect on our collective efforts to malama aina across Hawaii for the last 15 years through the State Legacy Land Conservation Program (“Legacy Lands Program”).
In 2005, listening to diverse stakeholders, the Legislature got it right. It passed the Legacy Lands Program recognizing that an “alarmingly small amount of money is invested each year to protect our natural capital base” and that the “preservation, protection, and enhancement of the state’s land, coastal areas, and natural resources are of central importance for current and future residents and for the state economy.”
The act set aside 10% or $6.8 million per year, whichever is less, from the pre-existing real estate conveyance tax (a state tax paid when land is sold) to save threatened places for future generations. Today, legacy lands include places like Ka Iwi Coast Mauka on Oahu, the Nu‘u Refuge on Maui, Lapakahi State Historical Park on Hawaii island, Kainalu Ranch on Molokai, and Hanalei Bayfront Pier on Kauai.
The program has protected 36 special places and over 21,000 acres of land. Its impact is much greater than its investment. For every dollar from the program, two dollars are raised from private, federal and county sources. The program’s grassroots application process activates and re-connects people to aina, kupuna, culture, history and each other and builds community resiliency.
The program permanently conserves ranching and agricultural land to grow our own food; it protects the forests that capture and produce our clean drinking water and shelter native plants and animals; it increases people’s access to hunting, hiking, camping, recreation and enjoyment of mauka and makai areas; and it preserves the beauty and mana of Hawaii, our home.
The Legacy Land Program now receives more applications than ever. Last year, there were 11 qualified projects from throughout the state, and nine projects had to be turned away. This has happened because the Legislature has recently only authorized the Legacy Land Program to spend $5.1 million in its annual budget bill, less than what flows into the fund, and discontinued project grants are redeposited into the fund.
Unspent funds of over $20 million have built up that the Legacy Program is unable to award to deserving communities who face threats to precious places across the islands.
More than 60 unlikely allies — landowners and community groups — ranging from Alexander & Baldwin, Kamehameha Schools, and the James Campbell Co. LLC, to the Sierra Club and ‘Ahahui Malama I Ka Lokahi can agree on one thing: They all support the governor’s request in the fiscal year 2021 supplemental budget (LNR 101 — Land Conservation Fund) to permit the Legacy Land Program to tap a portion of the over $20 million so that additional lands can be set aside for future generations, fulfilling the Legislature’s original intent and the people’s desire to conserve the places that make Hawaii, Hawaii.
At a recent closing of a Legacy Land property, one community member announced, “Thank goodness there’s still something having to do with land in Hawaii that everyone can agree on!” We couldn’t agree more, and if you agree, please join in at the Legislature this Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, as we celebrate the Legacy Land Program’s 15 years of aloha aina and look to the future for greater success.
Butch Haase, left, chairs the State Legacy Land Conservation Commission; Earlynne Maile chairs The Trust for Public Land Hawaii; Mary Charles chairs the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust.