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2 state departments say they are working together on land transfers

The leadership for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture announced that they are working together to move thousands of acres of pasture land between the departments — and suggested that they were against legislation that would mandate the transfer of those lands.

Since the passage of Act 90 by state lawmakers in 2003, the departments have been trying to redistribute thousands of acres of DLNR pasture land between each other, although they have struggled do so because much of that land is valuable for both conservation and farming, and both departments want them for their respective goals.

Both departments have to agree to the transfer of parcels, according to Act 90.

The DLNR and DOA in a joint news release today said they are now focusing on “win-win” solutions for pasture land that’s appealing to both departments.

“I’m directing DLNR to focus on processing transfers we agree are win-win, as well as negotiating with stakeholders on the multiple-use lands. We are putting all available lands on the negotiating table to see whether there are overlooked opportunities to support agriculture, while safeguarding other public trust resources,” DLNR Chair Dawn Chang said in the news release. “DLNR and (DOA) recognize that each parcel should be reviewed individually, using the existing process of Act 90 that requires the expertise of both boards to prescribe how to best manage natural, cultural, and agricultural resources.”

The departments also signaled opposition against legislation forcing the land to move to the agricultural department. Senate Bill 77, which is making its way through the state Legislature this year, would do just that.

The DLNR opposed the measure, saying in a written testimony that much of the land that would be moved is valuable for its cultural and natural resources and could be or is already being managed for conservation purposes.

The agricultural department stayed neutral in its testimony on the bill, but in today’s news release said that the wholesale transfer of the land probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

“We have heard from many stakeholders including ranchers, trail users, conservationists, gatherers, and lawmakers,” DOA Chair Sharon Hurd said in the release. “This is a complex issue. A mandate to transfer all the lands to (DOA) has unintended consequences for these stakeholders, as well as the agencies. We hope to chart a different course that has both progress and balance.”

Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D, Hilo-Pepeekeo), chair of the Committee on Water and Land and author of SB 77, applauded the collaboration between the two departments, but said that without any actual reports on the progress of the Act 90 — including information about the quality of transferred land — the passing of SB 77 is still necessary.

“They’re saying they’re making movement, but they have to report to us,” Inouye told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I want to know what lands they’re sending over as well. … I want to know what lands they’re looking at.”

Inouye, who introduced the bill that became Act 90 in 2003, is worried that some of the land that the DLNR is willing to transfer might not be good enough for farming, saying “some of the lands were gulches (or otherwise) not made to be farm lots.”

A host of issues have been brought up by ranchers leasing land from the DLNR, ranging from the leases themselves to the DLNR’s management of the land.

Inouye and ranchers said that the conservation-minded land department can and does withdraw pasture land for reforestation purposes, but complained that the department doesn’t manage that land and allows weeds and invasive plants to grow.

Today’s news release termed the new focus on pasture land that is valuable to both departments “Phase 2” of the Act 90 transfers. The DLNR said that Phase 2 of the transfers includes more communication between the departments and more engagement with agricultural stakeholders such as the ranchers.

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