Wao Kele O Puna Now Protected (HI)

Puna District, Island of Hawai’i, 8/72/2007: – Wao Kele O Puna became a place of reflection, healing and optimism today as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, The Trust for Public Land, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources and other partners came together to celebrate the future of the 25,856-acre rainforest.

“It is highly appropriate that we take this day to commemorate what has been accomplished together, not for just us here and now, but for the generations ahead,” said Haunani Apoliona, Chair of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees. “We are here to rededicate this ‘?ina and focus ourselves on the work ahead.”

Generations of Native Hawaiians have practiced traditional hunting, gathering and religious customs at Wao Kele O Puna, the last large intact lowland rainforest in the state.

“At Wao Kele o Puna, its richness is already apparent. It stands as one of Hawaii’s greatest shrines that connects not only the land to native people but native people to all living things. The sound we hear is the thread that ties everything together,” said Reed Holderman, Regional Director of The Trust for Public Land.

The ceremony marks a new beginning for Wao Kele O Puna, where geothermal development was once planned and where neighbors, Native Hawaiians and environmentalists – mainly through the efforts of the Pele Defense Fund — fought for the rainforest’s protection at the geothermal development site, in the courts and by working collaboratively with other partners to acquire the property.

“Today’s celebration of Wao Kele O Puna culminates more than two decades of perseverance and commitment by public and private partners to protect a significant natural and cultural resource,” Gov. Linda Lingle said. “Preserving native forests like Wao Kele O Puna and other environmental treasures around our state will help enhance the quality of life in Hawai’i for future generations.”

Also present today was U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye who secured $3.35 million in federal Forest Legacy funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, funding used toward the $3.65 million purchase of the property. OHA acquired title to the land last year after paying the difference. Wao Kele O Puna is the first ceded land to be returned to a representative of the Hawaiian people.

“Let us rededicate ourselves to this joint mission, no longer as opposing parties, but now as stewards, as working hands, respectful of kuleana, and unified by common direction,” OHA Chair Apoliona said.