Higher fines needed to protect resources
Three bills would increase penalties for destruction of state land and ocean resources.
When wood from a single koa tree, illegally cut from state land, can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars, a $500 fine isn't much of a deterrent -- it's more like the cost of doing business. That small amount does not even cover the cost of restoration of a public resource.
But that's about the maximum the state can seek under current law, and if Hawaii's forests, watersheds and ocean assets are to be protected, stiffer penalties should be imposed.
Legislation to increase fines significantly -- in some cases to as much as $20,000 -- would send a clear message to those who would violate conservation and other public land as well as coral reefs.
Destruction of public land isn't unusual in the state. There have been many instances in which owners of property adjacent to state acreage either deliberately or inadvertently grade hillsides, bulldoze streams or remove trees to suit their needs.
Restoration is difficult and expensive, and damage can be long-lasting or even permanent. In most cases, the meager fines are little more than a slap on the wrist.
While two of the bills would allow the Department of Land and Natural Resources flexibility in leveling penalties, depending on the extent of damage, a third measure, dealing with coral reef destruction, has amendments that could become problematic. They require an economic valuation be set by a scale of area damaged in relation to threatened and endangered species or other organisms, which is almost impossible to determine, and could lead to disputes and delays in assessments and restoration. Lawmakers should remove the amendment and allow the department to set appropriate penalties.
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