Nature Conservancy Buys Land Near Hawai‘i Island Volcanoes

December 31, 2014, 9:55 AM HST · Updated January 2, 8:18 AM
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Kahuku_Iki_Map

Kahuku Iki map. Courtesy NPS.

By Maui Now Staff

The Nature Conservancy has purchased a 222-acre property in the Kaʻū district of Hawai‘i Island, preventing it from being developed and making it a potential addition to the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

“This is a small, but very strategic piece of property that could have easily become an agricultural subdivision or strip mall,” said Jody Kaulukukui, director of land protection at the conservancy. “But with the conservancy purchase, ag subdivision, clearing and development, which are permissible on agriculturally zoned lands, are no longer a threat.”

The land, known as Kahuku Iki, lies between Ocean View and Nāʻālehu, bordered by Highway 11 and the old Mamalahoa Highway. It was purchased from Hulu Lolo LLC real estate company for $330,000. The state Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism estimates that 2 million people drive past the area every year.

Kahuku Iki

Kahuku Iki

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Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park owns a 116,000-acre plot known as the Kahuku unit, which surrounds the newly purchased land. The park has expressed a strong desire to eventually incorporate Kahuku Iki into the existing park area.

“Acquiring this small parcel would provide the park with greater flexibility in providing a safe and scenic access to the Kahuku unit,” said Cindy Orlando, Volcanoes National Park superintendent. “The park would also explore working with the state to develop a parking area for a few cars off the Old Mamalahoa Highway as a trailhead to the 1868 lava flow and rare native dryland forest, as well as a potential trail following the historic Kahuku-ʻAinapō Trail alignment to connect other trails in lower Kahuku.”

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and The Nature Conservancy have partnered in the past to acquire land reserves. In 2003, the organizations teamed up to purchase the 116,000-acre Kahuku Ranch. It was the largest land purchase in Hawai‘i history and increased the park’s 217,000-acre span by 50 percent. The potential incorporation of Kahuku Iki into the park is dependent on federal funding and is at least two to four years away, according to Kaulukukui. For now, the conservancy will manage the land.

Hoawe flower

Hoawe flower, courtesy NPS.

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Kahuku Iki is home to increasingly rare ecological environments in the islands, and includes native plants such as ‘ōhiʻa, ulei, pukiawe, hoawa, and aʻaliʻi. Native birds, including the Hawaiian hawk (‘io) and two types of honeycreeper (‘apapane and ‘amakihi) inhabit the area, and the Hawaiian hoary bat (ʻōpeʻapeʻa) is also believed to live there.

Because the land has never been managed, Christmas berry (an invasive weed) and mouflon sheep have significantly impacted some sections of the land.

The Nature Conservancy currently manages some 15,000 acres of land on Hawai‘i Island, including Kahuku Iki. Along with its partners, the organization has protected over 200,000 acres statewide. Across the globe, the nonprofit has helped to protect 120 million acres of ecologically valuable land and water.

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