Hawai`i Launches “Conservation Can’t Wait” Campaign

HAWAI’I, April 8, 2009: Local groups concerned about natural and cultural resources are rallying in opposition of measuresbefore the state legislature that would significantly cut state funds for important conservationprograms. The “Conservation Can’t Wait” campaign unites the efforts of groups such as theInvasive Species Committees on five islands, Hawai’i Association of Watershed Partnerships,MA’O Organic Farms, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hawai’i Conservation Alliance Foundation,KAHEA, Trust for Public Land Hawai’i, The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i, and the ConservationCouncil for Hawai’i.

Proposed budget cuts include programs that benefit island communities by employing close to 200people and leverage more than $20 million dollars of additional funds for Hawai’i. The programsprovide clean water for residents, protect oceans for fishing and swimming, conserve agriculturallands, provide educational opportunities for children, protect the public from health threats such asWest Nile, control invasive species, and manage forested areas for cultural and recreational uses.Specifically HB 1741 proposes to:

* Reduce by more than 50 percent the Natural Area Reserve Fund (NARF), which supportsefforts to protect and improve watersheds, address new invasive species infestations, protectthreatened and endangered species, survey for bird and mosquito borne diseases, conductresearch on agricultural pests and the containment and eradication of established invasivespecies, educate students about the environment, and train the next generation ofconservation workers. This reduction would be in place for the next six years. The Senateversion would reduce the percentage by 25 percent over a period of three years.

* Eliminate for six years the Land Conservation Fund (LCF), which helps purchase openspace, agricultural land, forests, habitat, cultural and historic sites, and public access andrecreation areas. The Senate version would reduce the percentage by 50 percent for a periodof three years.

Another bill, SB884, also adopts provisions of HB1741.

Both NARF and LCF are funded by conveyance taxes related to home sales. The slumping realestate market and the resulting lower conveyance taxes from home sales already translates into a 50percent cut in program budgets–far more than most other state programs. This has led to reducedprotection efforts exposing Hawai’i’s resources and population to risk and workers laid off. IfHB1741 or similar measures were to pass, these programs would face additional 60-80 percent cuts,leaving our islands vulnerable to infestations of invasive species, diminished protection of nativespecies and possibly irreversible changes to Hawaii’s fragile ecosystems.

“Conservation hugely impacts the economy,” said John Morgan, president of Kualoa Ranch. “Cleanwater, open space, productive lands and oceans are all critical for human existence.””Imagine that your household budget has been cut in half. On top of this, you are being asked tomake an additional 60-80% cut. Can you realistically be able to provide the basic necessities offood for your family and a roof over their heads? That’s where these programs are at right now.They protect the natural resources that provide Hawaii’s communities with the basic necessities ofwater, supporting agricultural lands that provide us with food, and public health benefits such asclean air and water,” said Christine Ogura, coordinator of the Hawai’i Association of WatershedPartnerships.

Resource managers say that significant progress made in conserving the Islands’ natural resourceswill lose ground, causing a setback for demonstrated achievements in environmental protection andcosting the state even more in the long run. The cuts would also stymie the leveraging power ofstate funds needed to acquire federal, county, and private monies.

“Because of the Legacy Land Conservation Program we were able to purchase the land [forfarming] and use it for agriculture to grow food for the community, for the state and for the peopleof Hawai’i,” said Manny Miles, manager apprentice, MA’O Organic Farms in Wai’anae.

To protect Hawai’i’s clean water, agricultural lands, healthy forests, native plants, birds and insects,and to ensure the control of invasive species, the Conservation Can’t Wait in Hawai’i Campaign ismaking the case to preserve already significantly reduced funding and keep the conservation budgetfrom being further reduced.

“Conservation can’t wait because protecting what is most precious in Hawai’i is really protectingthe essence of who we are as a people, not just Native Hawaiians, but everybody in Hawai’i,” saidJonathan Scheuer, director of land management for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

More information and how to support local conservation programs here.

Video: Conservation Can’t Wait in Hawaii (7:47 min.)