Plan to preserve 6,600 acres stirs controversy
By JASON ARMSTRONG
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The state’s Natural Area Reserve System would grow by 6,600 acres under a proposal to incorporate most of the former Kulani Correctional Facility for research and species preservation.
To learn what the public thinks about expanding the Puu Makaala NAR, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Forestry and Wildlife Division will hold a public hearing on the proposal. It’s scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 12 at Cooper Center on Wright Road in Volcano.
Comments made will be presented to the Board of Land and Natural Resources, which will consider approving the proposal at a future meeting.
“That will be set at a later date,” said Deborah Ward, DLNR spokeswoman. She said that “most likely” the board will
convene on Oahu, where it holds most of its meetings.
The governor would then have to sign the land transfer to finalize the expansion.
The target area is roughly 6 miles long and up to 3 miles wide, ranging from the 4,600-foot elevation to the 6,229-foot level.
Located about 20 miles south of Hilo, it’s bounded by the existing Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve and private land belonging to Kamehameha Schools.
The northern part of the site is bisected by the Pu‘u O‘o Trail, which is a historic cattle-crossing route, according to background documents presented to the DLNR.
The area also is part of the former 7,244-acre Kulani Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison the state closed Nov. 20 to save an estimated $2.8 million annually.
Hawaii Island’s only prison, which opened in 1946, is slated to be turned over to the state Department of Defense for use as a Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy for at-risk teens.
“This transition of management of the facility is an opportunity for careful planning and decision making for the appropriate management of this highpriority conservation area,” according to the proposal from the NARS Commission.
The area is “probably the finest and highest quality forest on the Island of Hawaii,” the commission adds in support of the proposed expansion.
Besides containing large tracts of koa and ohia forests, the area also is home to 11 endangered plant species and serves as federal critical habitat for seven types of birds, Paul Conry, Forestry and Wildlife Division administrator, wrote in
a recent letter asking the land board to hold a public hearing on the proposal.
“This area is of high scientific value and has been used as a research facility for many studies,” states information from the NARS Commission. “Kulani provides a study site to test the effectiveness of management activities such as outplanting, invasive weed control and predator control in areas protected from ungulates.”
Rejecting the expansion request “would be to lose an opportunity to designate an area that is high quality and appropriate as a NAR on all measures, during a key time of transition.”
Not everyone supports the proposal. The Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group, which has members interested in fishing, hunting, hiking, bicycling, off-highway vehicle use and equestrian activities, has questioned how big the reserve should be and if NARS can effectively manage the larger area.
The group wants the land returned to the Waiakea and Olaa forest reserves. “Our concern is that under NARS control, public land is essentially removed from public use,” Wayne Blyth, group chairman, wrote in a recent letter asking
for a Hilo hearing on the proposal.
“We believe that this public land should be protected, but also available for appropriate public use,” Blyth added. “A NARS designation unduly restricts the latter.”
According to NARS’ 1997 management policy, “public access may be controlled, regulated or prohibited in order to manage the impacts of public use of sensitive areas.”
Native Hawaiian gathering rights, commercial activities and educational trips are allowed in reserve areas, but only after members have obtained a special use permit.
Created in 1971 to “preserve and protect, in perpetuity, examples of Hawaii’s unique terrestrial and aquatic natural resources,” NARS has eight Big Island reserves totaling 88,330 acres.
The Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve, designated in 1981 for its ecosystems, biodiversity and geological features, currently covers 12,106 acres.
Additional information is available on the DLNR’s website: http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/dofaw/nars/pm.doc.
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