Panel calls for land
agency audit

Reacting to the concerns of environmental and Hawaiian groups, a state House committee yesterday called for a management audit of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

House Water, Land and Ocean Resources Chairman Ezra Kanoho said he wants the audit to emphasize "what's going well, as well as what's going wrong."

But committee Vice Chairman Brian Schatz said he believes the public wants an answer "to the big-picture question of, how are we managing our natural resources, and how can we do a better job of it?"

House Concurrent Resolution 200, HD 1, says it will "go beyond an ordinary management audit to one that addresses the long-term mission of the DLNR and their ability to sustain the resources entrusted to them."

The resolution also calls for study of the loss of some upper-level DLNR management, staff vacancies and funding shortages.

The resolution was passed unanimously by the committee.

In testimony Wednesday, groups and individuals expressed worry that the state's natural resources are in danger because of staff shortages and budget cutbacks.

The department encompasses 11 divisions and has primary responsibility for 1.3 million acres of state-owned lands, 3 million acres of nearshore ocean waters, 21 small-boat harbors and 800,000 acres of forest reserves.

Its annual budget is $73 million, less than 1 percent of the state budget.

If the audit resolution is passed by the House Finance Committee and the full House, it will be taken up by the Senate Water, Land and Agriculture Committee.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R-Kailua), who voted for the audit, noted: "I criticize the Legislature for chronically underfunding the DLNR," referring to the Legislature's cut of $4 million and 87 job positions from the agency last year.

"I think we're whitewashing ourselves," Thielen said.

Recalling how she used to hold up a pie chart to show the department's portion of state funding, Thielen said she now "can't find DLNR's funding -- it's so small now we need a magnifying glass."

Department Director Peter Young testified Wednesday that the Legislature had cut his budget last year over his protests.

"I appreciate that the committee recognizes that criticisms of the department have been occurring over several decades and not just the last two years," Young said yesterday. "We will fully cooperate with any audit of the department."

Kanoho said he's heard from some DLNR staff who have concerns with Young's management style, and others who praise him.

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