Big Isle, Maui to launch conservation program


POSTED: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hawaii farmers and ranchers who voluntarily enroll in an innovative land conservation program beginning April 1 could get a portion of an estimated $67 million being offered in payment and services.

“;During these critical times, it is important to continue taking steps toward long-term economic recovery while advancing stewardship of our islands' natural resources, and this program does that. This truly a win-win situation,”; said Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona.

State and federal officials announced yesterday that the Hawaii Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is primarily federally funded, with $53.6 million coming from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The money is not part of the stimulus package.

Annual rental payments will range from $43 an acre for marginal pastureland to $270 an acre for cropland, depending on the land eligibility and classification.

The state must provide 20 percent in matching funds and services, and will provide $6.7 million over the next 20 years, and an additional $6.7 million in in-kind services. The $13.4 million comes from the Forest Stewardship Special Fund approved in 2006 by the state Legislature.

Farmers and ranchers should check with their local Farm Service Agency office to apply or for more information.

The program will open on Maui and the Big Island in the first two years, followed by Molokai and Lanai in the third year, and end on Kauai and Oahu in the fourth and fifth years, respectively.

The goal is to enroll 15,000 acres of marginal pastureland and cropland in 15-year contracts.

It will offer help to landowners to reforest areas with native trees, such as koa and ohia.

While other such landowner-assisted programs are available, this allows the state to tap into the largest farm bill available from the federal government, said Paul Conry, Division of Forestry and Wildlife administrator with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The program is tailored to Hawaii's needs in protecting more than 300 endangered species of wildlife, and allows for protection of intermittent streams, unlike the mainland, which allows only perennial streams.

Conry said in these economic times, the program is especially helpful in preserving valuable conservation lands that some farmers and ranchers might be forced to carve up and sell off for development.

Duane Okamoto, state Department of Agriculture deputy director, said that in these difficult times, the program will “;give a boost to our agricultural industry.”;

Officials urged all agricultural landowners and leaseholders to inquire with the Farm Service Agency to see whether they are eligible.

The program will help repair stream forest buffers, wetland buffers and reforestation sites by planting native vegetation and controlling invasive species.