Tough new regulations
to protect ecosystems
Commercial activity in naturalBy Alan Matsuoka
reserves will be limited
Commercial activity in the state's 19 natural area reserves will be barred except by special permission under a tough new policy approved by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
The prohibition applies to any profit-making company and nonprofit group that collects a fee, charge or other compensation for activities on the reserves system's 110,000 acres.
It is an attempt to protect native ecosystems, which are under increasing threat, and comes when ecotourism is seen as a way to boost the state's flagging economy.
"Some people are looking at ecotourism as somehow being a magic bullet," said Deborah Chang, who chaired the committee that drafted the policy.
"At the same time, we need to be very concerned about what impacts ecotourism could have on the very resource the tourists seek to enjoy."
Michael Wilson, chairman of the land board, said decisions up to now have been made on a case-by-case basis rather than looking comprehensively at the best way to "sustain these natural treasures as a whole."
The management policies were approved by a 13-member commission representing scientists, state officials, hunters and hikers before being sent to the board, which passed them May 23.
One of the reasons the commission took more than two years to develop the 10-page document is the lack of a departmental policy for commercial activities on state lands, said Executive Secretary Betsy Gagne.
Chang, one of the founders of the hiking group E Mau Na Ala Hele, said the panel eventually used a federal definition of commercial activity. Unregulated and largely unpublicized use is taking place now, she said.
"What I would like to see the department do is to examine that definition closely and determine whether that is appropriate for the entire department," Chang said.
The policies address threats to the native ecosystems that are other than commercial, such as alien plant species, feral animals, and people "who are loving it to death," a problem seen in national parks, she noted.
Under the guidelines, highest priority is given to conservation of natural resources, followed by public use and finally commercial activity.
Commercial operators must get a special use permit before being allowed to use the reserves.
The Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter said it was worried about the precedence established by the policy, noting that the organization sometimes collects fees for hikes or transportation.
"Just because you're charging money doesn't mean it's a commercial use," said Director David Frankel. But Gagne indicated the permit process might be streamlined in such cases.
In other policy provisions:
Collecting only will be allowed with a special use permit and if it contributes to knowledge applicable to system goals. Scientific collecting is discouraged if specimens can be found elsewhere.
Collecting for traditional Hawaiian cultural purposes will be allowed only "to the extent permitted by law" and with a permit, which "helps monitor the amounts collected in specific areas and protects gatherers from any public concerns."
Visiting and using religious and historic sites by native Hawaiians is allowed, although disturbing the sites is prohibited.
All organized educational trips will require a permit.
The state Natural Area Reserves System was established in 1971 to protect ecosystems, not just individual species. There are 19 reserves on five islands.
Where the reserves are
HAWAIIPu'u O 'Umi, 10,142 acres
Mauna Kea Ice Age, 3,894 acres
Laupahoehoe, 7,894 acres
Waiakea 1942 Flow, 640 acres
Pu'u Maka'ala, 12,106 acres
Kahauale'a, 16,726 acres
Manuka, 25,550 acres
Kipahoehoe, 5,583 acres
MAUI'Ahihi-Kina'u, 2,045 acres
West Maui, 6,702 acres
Hanawi, 7,500 acres
Kanaio, 876 acres
MOLOKAIPu'u Ali'i, 1,330 acres
Oloku'i, 1,620 acres
OAHUPahole, 658 acres
Ka'ala, 1,100 acres
Ka'ena Point, 12 acres
KAUAIKu'ia, 1,636 acres
Hono O Na Pali, 3,150 acres