Over the line
Hawaii needs tougher laws to protect its coral reefs, property lines and other natural resources
Courtesy of marcia stone
A bill seeks to increase fines for destroying coral reefs, such as the one pictured here in Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawaii.
A bed and breakfast operation cuts down mature forest trees on state land that are blocking its customers' view of the ocean. A man building a nine-hole golf course on his estate grades state land next to his property, leaving dirt exposed to run down the hill to the adjacent bay and reef. Poachers cut down and steal a mature koa tree on state land with a market value of $50,000. A landowner installs an irrigation system that extends his lawn into a public beach area, giving it the appearance of private property.
What do all of these actions have in common? They are real-life examples of resource damage that have been witnessed by Department of Land and Natural Resources foresters and conservation officers; they took place on state land; they damaged our natural resources and environment; and they violated state law.
They also have one other thing in common: the maximum penalty DLNR can impose under law for an offense on unencumbered state land is only $500.
If we want people to take resource protection seriously, then we have to change the law.
The Lingle-Aiona administration has submitted three key bills this session that will increase penalties for people violating laws that protect our natural resources, environment and public lands. The goal is to encourage people to respect and protect our resources, and to consider stewardship responsibilities a normal part of doing business in our state.
Our first bill seeks to protect resources on unencumbered state land -- primarily forests and coastal areas that are owned by the state of Hawaii. Currently, people who violate laws for these lands face a maximum penalty of $500 per violation. House Bill 3178 creates penalties for first-, second- and third-time violators, with a maximum fine of $10,000. More importantly, in cases of natural resource theft, it allows the Land Board to impose a higher fine that takes into account the market value of the resource stolen; and in cases of resource damage, requires the perpetrator to help restore the land back to its natural state.
Our second bill seeks to protect resources in the Conservation District -- mostly private lands within our essential forests and watersheds that safeguard our drinking water supply and prevent erosion and runoff that would devastate our near-shore waters and reefs. The current $2,000 maximum fine for violating Conservation District laws has not been raised in more than a decade. HB 3177 proposes raising the maximum penalty for violating our Conservation District laws to $10,000.
The third bill seeks to protect our fragile coral reef ecosystem. The law currently imposes a maximum $5,000 fine per specimen of endangered coral destroyed. The problem is, our reef fish and ocean ecosystem rely upon all corals, some of which are not endangered. Moreover, in some cases the destruction is so complete that it's impossible to determine how many "specimens" of coral were destroyed. HB 3176 addresses these issues by allowing DLNR to impose a $5,000 penalty per square meter of coral destroyed.
These three bills will give DLNR's foresters, aquatic biologists and conservation officers the tools they need to enforce existing laws to protect our environment and public lands. The House swiftly approved all three measures and passed them to the Senate, where they have been amended, which will require the House and Senate to discuss the bills in conference committee at the end of session.
If you support providing DLNR with a real ability to enforce and protect our natural resources, please contact the committee chairmen, Rep. Ken Ito at 586-8470 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Sen. Clayton Hee at 586-7330 or email@example.com, and ask them to pass these essential measures.
Laura H. Thielen is chairwoman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.