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Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission seeks funding, restoration of two specialists

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Kahoʻolawe. PC: Maui Now file image.

The and Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission is urging support of House Bill 1577, which seeks to fund two full-time equivalent permanent positions, and provide additional funding to support safety and infrastructure.

According to the measure, “In order to continue and protect the accomplishments already made, additional funding is needed to support Kaho‘olawe island operations, safety, and infrastructure.  In addition, funding is needed to restore the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve specialist II and Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve specialist III positions, two critical positions necessary to support safety and logistical functions and on-island restoration efforts and sustainability field projects while on Kaho‘olawe and to act as boat crew while on Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve commission vessels.”

In 1993, the legislature found that the island of Kaho‘olawe was of significant cultural and historic importance to the native people of Hawaiʻi. The legislature also found that, “due to extensive erosion and other ecological problems, the presence of unexploded ordnance, the existence of archaeological and other cultural and historic sites, and the presence of native and endangered flora and fauna, a new management regime was needed to effectively meet the unique challenges of restoring, preserving, and determining the appropriate use for Kaho‘olawe.”

According to the measure, the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission was funded predominantly by a dwindling trust fund created in 1994 during the federal cleanup of unexploded ordnance on Kaho‘olawe.  

“Although the funding was a considerable amount at the time, the federal appropriations totaling approximately $44,000,000 over a period of several years was not substantial enough to establish a sustainable endowment for the long-term restoration of Kaho‘olawe,” the legislation notes.

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From 1994 until 2016, the measure states that federal funding, “allowed the Kaho‘olawe island reserve commission to establish many innovative programs that emphasize ancestral and traditional knowledge, use a cultural approach of respect for and connectivity to the environment, and integrate ancient and modern resource-management techniques.”

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In 2004, the management and control of the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve was transferred from the US Navy to the State, with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission designated as the state agency to oversee the use and restoration of the reserve.  

A fiscal audit of the Kaho‘olawe rehabilitation trust fund was performed in 2013, which found that: the trust fund would be depleted by 2016; and the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission lacked a comprehensive and quantifiable restoration plan with performance measures to gauge whether objectives are being met.

In 2013, the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission began development of a 2026 strategic plan for Kaho‘olawe, marking fifty years of occupation of Kaho‘olawe by the people of Hawaiʻi and laying out a pathway for the future use and management of the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve.  

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After a two-year effort, the multi-organizational Kaho‘olawe strategic planning working group developed an island-wide, community-based strategic plan, entitled “I Ola Kanaloa”, or “Life to Kanaloa”, that addresses the future restoration, management, and uses of Kaho‘olawe “for the State, the people of Hawaii, and a possible future sovereign Native Hawaiian entity.”

In 2017, the legislature provided funds and authorized 15 positions for 2017-2019 to allow the Commission to continue its mission in the near term.

The purpose of the Act is to appropriate funds to the Department of Land and Natural Resources for the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission to effectively meet the unique challenges of restoring, preserving, and determining the appropriate uses of the Kaho‘olawe island reserve for the people of Hawaiʻi.

Under the current version of the bill, $500,000 or the amount deemed necessary for FY 2022-2023 would be appropriated out of the General Revenues, to be used for the natural and physical environment. There is also a request for $72,000 for the same period to fund two full-time permanent positions.

I urge you to pass HB1577. I am in full SUPPORT of this measure toprovide additional financial and staff support for the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to continue their long-term restoration of Kaho`olawe, which will benefit all of Hawai’i’s people for generations to come. This funding is necessary for the KIRC to effectively meet the unique challenges of restoring, preserving and managing the appropriate, safe uses of the Reserve for the people of Hawai’i. Funding will enable the continuation of innovative land and ocean restoration programs for Kaho’olawe, while also entrusting a unique and critical opportunity to introduce, encourage and develop the next generation of land, ocean and cultural resource managers through an integrated mauka to makai volunteer program. Through immersive, hands-on experience within a cooperative natural and cultural resource management system, these opportunities incorporate both traditional indigenous practices and modern scientific methods. I respectfully ask you to please PASS HB1577.

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