Saturday, November 17, 2001

Board not satisfied with
ranch land options

By Rod Thompson

KAILUA-KONA >> The future of 108,847 acres of state-owned ranch lands and associated lands in North Kona remains undecided after the state Board of Land & Natural Resources ran out of time yesterday to decide between competing proposals.

Art Since last year, Puu Waawaa Cattle Co. has been leasing 21,000 acres on a monthly basis in two large land areas, Puuwaawaa and Puuanahulu.

Meanwhile, private, nonprofit Ka Ahahui O Puu Waawaa has been advocating a multiple-use concept for the Puuwaawaa ahupuaa. An ahupuaa is an ancient Hawaiian land division that runs from the shoreline to the mountain. The nonprofit's plan would re-establish unified management of an ahupuaa for the first time since the days of the Hawaiian kingdom.

In response, the cattle company now on the land has joined with a coalition of hunting groups under the umbrella of the Wildlife Conservation Association of Hawaii to advocate its own proposal.

Both proposals call for hunting, ranching and protection of numerous endangered dry-land plants in the area. They differ on how to do it.

Besides an existing 3,806-acre bird sanctuary in the upland part of Puuwaawaa, as much as 2,500 more acres would be cleared of cattle and game animals such as wild sheep and pigs, Ahahui member Randy Vitousek told the board.

Wildlife group member Kaimiloa Chrisman criticized that as a practice of "fence and eradicate" which has led to a loss of hunting grounds in other areas. Instead of large-scale eradication of game animals, individual endangered plants can be protected using "tree tubes," he said.

In fact, the recommendation to the Land Board by its staff, which favors the Ahahui proposal, calls for a demonstration project on land next to the bird sanctuary in which the possibility of preserving hunting while protecting endangered plants would be tested.

Neither proposal appeared to satisfy Land Board members.

"Where is the preservation part of this plan?" board member Lynn McCrory asked the Wildlife group.

Chrisman answered that it had not been prepared yet.

But McCrory posed the same pointed question to the Ahahui.

Ahahui biologist Peter Vitousek said he was confident he could get several hundred thousand dollars from the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, the Hewlett Foundation and other sources for that purpose.

After four hours of testimony, board member Fred Holschuh, who tried unsuccessfully for five months to get the two sides to compromise with each other, moved to assign the land to neither group, creating instead a "management team" of all parties concerned. The board rejected the idea 4-2.

Member Tim Johns then moved to assign the land to the Ahahui. That, too, failed 4-2.

With board members eager to catch planes home, time had run out, and the matter was deferred pending a decision on a later date.

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