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Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi Announces New Director, Applauds Departing Director

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Photo: (L to R) Wayne Tanaka and Marti Townsend.

The Sierra Club Hawaiʻi today announced that after almost seven years at the helm, Marti Townsend is stepping down, and Wayne Tanaka has been selected as the new director.

Tanaka is an attorney, engineer, and lifelong environmental advocate, who joins the Club after most recently serving as Manager of the Public Policy Program at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. 

“I am so thrilled for the Sierra Club,” said Townsend on Tanaka’s new appointment. “Wayne is a real-life superhero–a force for good–standing up for the things we all love about Hawaiʻi. His smarts and big heart are unparalleled. The Sierra Club and Hawaiʻiʻs environment are in good hands with Wayne.” 

“It is my honor to join the Sierra Club during this critical moment in history,” said Tanaka. “Now more than ever, we need the Sierra Club to continue its vital and outstanding work, leading the charge against the biggest threats to our environment and life as we know it in Hawai‘i nei. Marti’s fearless leadership and groundbreaking advocacy has been a huge inspiration to me, and it is an incredible privilege and great responsibility to build off of her legacy, and the foundation she has laid.”   


Tanaka’s passion for native ecosystems and community-based resource management also led him to serve as the President of the Board for the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, and as a founding board member of Kua‘āina Ulu ‘Auamo.  His publications include articles and book chapters on konohiki fishing rights, nearshore fisheries management, indigenous food sovereignty, and the intersection of race and politics in Hawai‘i.

The Sierra Club is the largest, oldest environmental education and advocacy organization, and the only one in Hawaiʻi to issue political endorsements. They are most well-known for constructing, maintaining, and leading hikes on public access trails on the eight major islands, as well as advocating for innovative public policies protecting the environment.

The Sierra Club helped establish Hawaiʻi’s goal to be carbon net-zero by 2045, as well as a series of policies to establish state and county climate commissions, restrict commercial greenhouse gas emissions, and encourage the use of solar water heaters and roof-top solar panels. 

The Sierra Club’s work to protect Hawaiʻi’s public lands — much of which was taken from the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and its monarchy in the 1893 overthrow — include innovative tax structures to provide perpetual funding for the purchase and protection of conservation lands,  restoration of streams diverted for industrial agriculture, and litigation over the use of public lands for private profit. 


Under Townsend’s leadership, the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi focused much of its attention at the intersection of environmental protection and social injustices like poverty and racism.  Organization leaders say she used the Club’s influence to counter corporate influence at the capitol and in the courts.

According to a press release issued by the organization, Townsend helped the Sierra Club to “successfully tackle the Nextera takeover of HECO, expose Alexander & Baldwin’s $62 million deal for public trust stream water in East Maui, and expand tax fairness policies to encourage sustainable consumer choices, such as doubling the value of food stamps when used at local farmers’ markets.”

“The Sierra Club is also currently locking horns with the Navy over the Red Hill fuel tanks that threaten the future drinking water supply for urban Honolulu. The Department of Health is currently weighing whether to issue a 5-year permit to the Navy to operate the tanks,” according to a Sierra Club press release.

The hearing officer in Sierra Club’s contested case found that the Red Hill tanks pose a “real risk” to Oʻahu’s primary drinking water supply.  Rep. Ed Case recently introduced a bill to increase inspection and repair requirements at the Red Hill facility, echoing the Hearing Officer’s conclusion that the Navy’s improved protocols for operating the facility are still “sorely deficient.” The state’s taskforce on underground fuel storage facilities in Hawaiʻi will convene its next meeting on Oct. 28, 2021. 


“We are so pleased with our recent track record, and excited to see all that Wayne can do with what we have built at the Sierra Club,” said Jade Moss, Chair of the Executive Committee for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. 

“We are proud to count Marti as one of our alumnae,” said Environmental Law Program Director David Forman, explaining that “she demonstrated a commitment to justice through fierce advocacy that more than ‘kept up’ with the amazing Sierra Club volunteers.”  Observing that Marti’s successor paved the way for a succession of impressive ELP legal fellows, Forman added that “Wayne is a salt-of-the-earth leader whose intellectual horsepower and tabis-on-the-ground natural resource experience are sorely needed as governments around the world belatedly recognize that we are facing a climate emergency.”

“This is a time of immense change in Hawaiʻi,” said Townsend. “All of us should be looking at what we can do differently to address injustice in our society because continuing as we have been is no longer a viable option.” 

Tanaka said that he “looks forward to standing alongside the thousands of volunteers, members, and supporters who have accepted our kuleana to protect the land, waters, and places that have given us so much, in so many ways – and that will continue to take care of our children and future generations, long after we are gone.”

Asked about her plans for the future, Townsend said she will “continue to do all that she can to protect the future from the worst of climate change.”


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