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Wednesday, March 8, 2000

Multiple use proposed for
North Kona state land

By Rod Thompson


KAILUA-KONA -- Restoration of rare native plants, fostering Hawaiian culture, hunting, hiking, and ranching would all exist side by side on 106,000 acres of state land in North Kona under proposals pending before the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The state Land Board will view a portion of the land at Pu'uwa'awa'a, 15 miles northeast of Kailua-Kona, during a site visit tomorrow.

The visit is in preparation for a decision on what to do when a 21,000-acre lease to rancher F. Newell Bohnett expires Aug. 15.

Bohnett, a former owner of Sambo's Restaurants on the mainland, is seeking to extend the lease and transfer it to his business partner, Hamakua Coast rancher Ernest De Luz, said Land Board chairman Timothy Johns.

The lease was first granted in in 1960 and was sold to Bohnett in 1972. In the 1970s and 1980s, Bohnett took a series of unauthorized actions, including building two houses, a water system, and a landing strip on the ranch, and logging koa in an area inhabited by rare 'alala crows, Johns said.

Portions of the lease were removed from Bohnett's control, including 3,400 acres for an 'alala sanctuary. The last 'alala there has since died.

Johns said those concerns have been resolved and the current concern is forward-looking, to determine the best use of the land.

About 1998, realizing the lease would soon expire, a number of private groups came together with proposals. The Nature Conservancy served to organize them, said executive director Rex Johnson.

"We got quite a ways down the road but never got it to the point where it was ready to close and release money," Johnson said.

Another group, Ka 'Ahahui O Pu'uwa'awa'a, is making a proposal for multiple use throughout 106,000 acres from the upper slopes of Hualalai mountain to the ocean at Kiholo. The group's members include Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Hannah Springer and former land board member Chris Yuen.

Although the area has been swept by fires, including a major one in 1986 and another this year, 21 endangered plant species remain on the site, Yuen said.

The 21,000-acre Pu'uwa'awa'a ranch area is designated as a hunting area.

The Nature Conservancy proposal in particular has led to suspicion that hunting would be curtailed. "The Nature Conservancy is in a battle with hunters," said Tom Lodge, president of the Hawaii Hunters Association.

Johnson denied that hunting rights are threatened and added that pigs, found in the upland area of Hualalai, don't belong in a native forest.

Lodge sees the state's creation of a 40,000-acre hunting area at adjoining Pu'uanahulu as a way of moving hunters out of Pu'uwa'awa'a. Yuen said his group didn't oppose hunting at Pu'uanahulu because they wanted greater "balance" at Pu'uwa'awa'a.

The land extends to Kiholo, site of an ancient Hawaiian settlement and fish pond. Hawaiian cultural activities including "assisting with aquatic resources" are proposed there, Johns said.

Johns said Bohnett is open to the idea of multiple uses.

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