Hawaii News Lawmakers try again to move pasture land to agriculture department By Mark Ladao email@example.com Feb. 4, 2023 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! State lawmakers are again pushing to expedite the transfer of thousands of acres of nonagricultural park land managed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to the state Department of Agriculture. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. State lawmakers are again pushing to expedite the transfer of thousands of acres of nonagricultural park land managed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to the state Department of Agriculture. Several bills, most notably Senate Bill 77, were introduced this year to speed up the transfer of the pasture lands between the two departments, an effort that began 20 years ago when a law known as Act 90 was passed in 2003. The goal of the act was to fulfill a part of the state Constitution that aims to use public lands to expand farming and homeownership, although Act 90 requires that the boards of both DOA and DLNR agree to the transfer of each parcel. A total of 238 parcels, together comprising about 19,400 acres, have been transferred to the Agriculture Department since 2003, but the two agencies have been unable to agree on the transfer of much more of the eligible land that both departments view as important for their respective goals. SB 77’s most important impact would be eliminating DLNR’s ability to decline the land transfers and force about 100,000 acres of farmland from that department to DOA. While Act 90 established a collaborative arrangement between the departments, SB 77 would essentially pit them against each other. Farmers as well as conservation and agricultural groups have weighed in on the proposed legislation, with SB 77 receiving more than 100 pages of written testimony ahead of Friday’s hearing of the bill at the state Capitol convened by the Senate Committee on Water and Land and Committee on Agriculture and Environment. The Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, Hawaii Sierra Club and other groups opposed the bill, while the Ulupono Initiative, Hawaii Farm Bureau and others testified in support. DLNR said in testimony opposing SB 77 that it is interested in retaining or reviewing 68 general leases and revocable permits totaling 77,200 acres, and that most of that land is found in five general leases that consist of “irreplaceable native forest, endangered species, and recreational values.” A bill “to mandate transfer of these lands would result in the loss of considerable effort that DLNR has already invested in managing and designating these lands,” its testimony said. “More concerning, though, is DLNR would not be able to actively protect the public trust resources on these lands, which are of low value for agriculture yet highly valued for natural and cultural resources.” Proponents of the land transfers, including ranchers leasing DLNR land eligible for transfer, are upset that the department has prioritized conservation over agriculture, as it has withdrawn thousands of acres of pasture lands from ranchers that it deemed suitable for reforestation purposes. DLNR also has limited leasing abilities that make long-term planning difficult for ranchers. Once a lease on a parcel ends, for example, DLNR has to publicly auction the land, forcing farmers to bid on land they’ve already spent money improving. The department can avoid this by issuing month-to-month revocable permits, although the permits are problematic in their own right, as they can be canceled anytime and make it difficult for farmers to plan for the future. Many of the complaints ranchers have can be alleviated if the mutual agreement requirement in Act 90 is removed. “What the mutual agreement has turned out to be is kind of this backstop,” Nicole Galase, managing director of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “It really means that the intent of Act 90 — to keep lands in agricultural production — isn’t really achieved. … It has stopped over 100,000 acres of lands from being transferred that are in agriculture, that should be with the DOA.” Another bill to help expedite the transfer of Act 90 pasture land was introduced this year, although it keeps the mutual-agreement requirement. House Bill 14 was introduced by Rep. David Tarnas (D, Hawi-Waimea- Waikoloa), who said it’s important DOA and DLNR collaborate in the transfer of land. “Agriculture production is one of the management objectives (on these parcels), but so might be habitat conservation or forest restoration or native habitat restoration or public recreation. All these other purposes and objectives … are well beyond what the DOA handles,” he told the Star-Advertiser. “At the same time, the DLNR needs to get better at working with its lessees who are ranchers.” As chair of the House Committee of Water and Land during the 2022 legislative session, Tarnas introduced House Bill 1658, which also aimed to expedite the transfer of pasture land to DOA. Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D, Hilo-Pepeekeo), who chairs the Committee on Water and Land and introduced the 2003 bill that would go on to become Act 90, tried in 2022 to incorporate the wholesale transfer of pasture lands from DLNR to DOA into HB 1658, although the bill ended up dying in conference committee. SB 77 was passed out of Friday’s committee hearing. HB 14 hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing yet. Previous Story Honolulu’s $2.85M settlement with Gerard Puana resolves all claims Next Story Kokua Line: How can mom be recognized for 100th birthday?