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Environmental groups oppose gutting of environmental funds

15 environmental groups have written an open letter to the State House and Senate finance committee chairs urging them not to appropriate money from, or modify in an any way, several vital environmental funds.

The letter was sent to Chair Sylvia Luke (House Finance Committee) and Chair Jill Tokuda (Senate Ways and Means Commitee) by leaders of the following groups: Alohahawaiionipaa.org, the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, the Defend O‘ahu Coalition, the Hanalei Watershed Hui, the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, Hawai‘i’s Thousand Friends, Hui Ho‘omalu I Ka ‘Aina, Hui Kawainui‐Kailua Ka Wai Ola, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, the Ka Iwi Coalition, the Livable Hawai‘i Kai Hui, the Sierra Club’s Hawai‘i Chapter, the Surfrider Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and The Outdoor Circle.

Dear Chair Luke and Chair Tokuda,

Aloha. As leaders of environmental and Native Hawaiian communities in Hawai‘i, we appreciate all you do to help protect the environment. Like you, we believe a clean, healthy, and diverse environment is essential to our health and safety, quality of life, Native Hawaiian culture, and economy. It is also the legacy we leave for our children and future generations. We thank you and those who served before you for having the foresight to create and support long‐standing environmental programs to protect our land, natural resources, and cultural traditions.

We are writing to express our concerns about recent legislative efforts to appropriate moneys from, or otherwise modify special environmental funds that have helped to protect thousands of acres of undeveloped land, including essential watersheds, habitat for rare and endangered Hawaiian species, Hawaiian cultural sites, and subsistence and recreation areas.

Land Conservation Fund

Specifically, we are opposed to tying up a significant portion of the Land Conservation Fund for decades to help acquire Turtle Bay on O‘ahu at the expense of other worthy projects for which the Land Conservation Fund was established. Instead, we support the Turtle Bay conservation transaction using previously identified financing mechanisms – transient accommodation taxes, general obligation bonds, and reimbursable general obligation bonds. The Legacy Land Conservation Program and Land Conservation Fund were created by the Legislature in 2005 with broad public support to provide funds for land acquisitions across the state. In just 10 years, through an open application process and with approval of the House and Senate leadership, the Land Conservation Fund has protected, or will soon help to protect thousands of acres and dozens of special places at the urging of local communities in all four counties. Attached is a list of Legacy Lands purchased, in part, by the Land Conservation Fund.

Natural Area Reserve Fund

We also oppose the elimination of the conveyance tax allocation to the Natural Area Reserve Fund or the use of this fund for purposes other than the programs for which it was established. The conveyance tax allocation to the Natural Area Reserve Fund was established by the Legislature in 1993 to provide funding for public‐private land conservation partnerships. Later in the 1990s, broad‐scale watershed partnerships and the Youth Conservation Corp and then in 2005 the Natural Area Reserves on ceded and other state‐managed land, were added to the programs benefiting from the Natural Area Reserve Fund.

Today, this fund provides management for essential forest and watershed resources and trains future land managers on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, Maui, Lana‘i, and Hawai‘i island. For example, the Ko‘olau Mountains watershed provides O‘ahu residents with $7‐14 billion worth of nature’s benefits, including 135 billion gallons of fresh water annually (47% of O‘ahu’s groundwater recharge), as well as helping to keep nearshore areas clean from runoff and sedimentation, which can impact reefs and fishing.

We appreciate your efforts to replace conveyance tax funding for programs supported by the Natural Area Reserve Fund in budget bills. However, proposed funding amounts for these programs show approximately $6 million less than FY 2015 levels. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that future budget appropriations for these programs will be sufficient. Legislators come and go, and land management and protection programs, such as those supported by the Natural Area Reserve Fund, require steady, reliable funding to be most efficient. With special funds and dedicated funding, the Department of Land and Natural Resources can count on a certain amount of funding without having to go the Legislature and starting from scratch each year. For these reasons, we urge you not to eliminate the dedicated funding source for the Natural Area Reserve Fund. Attached is a list of Watershed Partnerships and Natural Area Reserves that are supported by this important special fund.

Matching Funds and Value

The Land Conservation Fund and the Natural Area Reserve Fund were created by the Legislature with broad public support because, historically, the Legislature has been challenged to provide enough funds for land conservation, watershed protection, and Hawaiian ecosystems. These funds also leverage millions of dollars in federal, county, and private funds. For example, every dollar spent by the Legacy Land Conservation Program on average is matched by more than a dollar from another source. When the State of Hawai‘i acquired the Honouliuli Forest Reserve in the Wai‘anae Mountains on O‘ahu, for example, $1 of State Legacy Land money was matched by over $3 of federal money. The National Coastal Wetlands Grant program provides a 50% federal match to 50% state match for land conservation, but if there is a dedicated state fund, the federal match may increase to 75%. Directing the funds in the Land Conservation Fund to single projects or eliminating the dedicated funding source for the Land Conservation Fund or Natural Area Reserve Fund likely means less federal, county, and private dollars leveraged for land conservation in Hawai‘i.

Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council

We urge you to appropriate a total of at least $6 million for the core prevention, control, research, and outreach programs of the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council. In 2002, the Legislative Reference Bureau study “Filling the Gaps in the Fight Against Invasive Species” estimated that $50 million annually is needed to address invasive species in Hawai‘i. So, we further request that any additional funds needed for emergency management of invasive species, such as albizia trees and little fire ants, come from other sources. In a study released last month by the Natural Resource and Economic Management Department of the University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture, researchers determined that expenditure of $8 million in the next 2‐3 years on little fire ant control on Hawai‘i island would yield $1.2 billion in reduced control costs and $129 million in lowered economic damages over the next 10 years.

We hope you will avoid dividing existing conservation funding into smaller allocations and not use funds from the Land Conservation Fund and/or Natural Area Reserve Fund for such invasive species emergencies. These two funds were not established to address such uses, nor can they accommodate the need.


Please keep the Land Conservation Fund and Natural Area Reserve Fund intact, including their dedicated funding sources. As legislators, you already have oversight and control of the Land Conservation Fund and the Natural Area Reserve Fund by capping funding or otherwise limiting the amount of conveyance tax deposited into each fund, and including budget provisos for programs supported by the funds. We offer to work with you in good faith if reforms and increased accountability of environmental special funds are needed, and to identify additional potential sources of funding
for the environment.

We can be reached through the Environmental Legislative Network at Conservation Council for Hawai‘i: 593‐0255 or [email protected].

Mahalo nui loa for considering our point of view.