ESSAY: WHY WE NEED HEALTHY FORESTS ON OUR ISLANDS

December 26, 1999
Hawaiian forest community to examine progress and future from 1992 Akaka law
By K. T. Cannon-Eger

It’s easy to take Hawai`i for granted. Soft winds, fragrant flowers, misty cliffs, endless beaches and our surrounding ocean are so powerful and pervasive that they seem inevitable.

Have an island and they will be there, or so it seems.

But there remains one element of our natural landscape that we couldn’t do without. If it were lost - and it could be - then all the rest that we love would have no meaning.

For it is true that without the forests we would have no water, no life worth living on any island, from Pu`uwai, Ni`ihau to South Point, Hawai`i.
When Sen. Daniel K. Akaka wrote and passed his Hawai`i Tropical Forest Recovery Act in 1992 he had this necessity in mind. That and - most believe - much more.

That federal law reveals the complexity of our forest lands. It displays the importance forests have for each living being on our lands. Best of all, the law provides ways for individuals, groups and communities to pitch in and take responsibility for the health and productivity of those mighty trees that make Hawai`i home.

Next month the Act will be given a comprehensive check-up. For two days a broad representation of those interested in keeping our forests healthy will gather in Honolulu.

First they will review what has been done in the seven years the Act has been law. Then in workshops and study sessions the process will begin to shape schedules for improvement, to set timetables for ‘what’s next’ and set out new ideas for actions that need to be taken but were somehow left out of the original plans.

“So much has happened in Hawai`i since Congress enacted the Hawai`i Tropical Forest Recovery Act,” Sen. Akaka said this week. “The Forestry 2010 Conference will be an excellent opportunity to review the accomplishments of the Act and identify what more can be done to promote sustainable forestry.”

Tim Johns, chairman of the State’s Board of Land and Natural Resources praised the cooperative efforts represented by state and federal agencies through the Hawai`i Forestry and Communities Initiative.

“I’m excited about the progress we’ve been making and I’m grateful for the help of the congressional delegation to help us move forward,” Johns said. “Everything we can do to nurture the growing forestry industry will help our state’s economy.”

The 1999 legislature created a new mechanism that allows revenue gained from state forest leasing to be put back into repair of forests that have been neglected too long. In the tropics, forests need care.

Our forests require protection from alien species whether its banana poka or miconia or wildlife killing tender surface roots and allowing the pests to spread. Those are just part of the powerful elements in the Act which devotes many parts of its nine fundamental concepts to stewardship, taking care of our forests so they can thrive and continue their vital role in capturing and releasing rain on what could otherwise be land as parched as Kaho`olawe.

Hannah Kihalani Springer who wrote the first words in the 1994 Action Plan will have the first words again at the conference Jan. 12-13 at the Radisson Waikiki Prince Kuhio Hotel.

She will provide the same spirit of preamble she spoke in 1994 when she recognized the “spirit of interconnectedness” that pervades all Hawai`i.

Patrick McGarey, legislative director for Sen. Akaka’s Washington office, provides a keynote, the overview of an act so broad that it has ideas for all who wish to participate in healing the forests on each island.

A special guest, Dr. Lawrence Waukau, president of Menominee Tribal Enterprises, which manages the Menominee tribe’s 243,000-acre forest in northern Wisconsin - site of their traditional homelands. Some say the Menominee have been on those lands for more than 10,000 years.

For the past 150 years, the tribe has managed their forest - a $12 million per year, 300-employee business - as a source of sustainable income while maintaining cultural respect for the environment in which they live.

Other speakers represent private and public forestry interests, woodworkers, tax policies, nurseries, the science community and traditional uses of forests.

Cost of the two-day conference has been kept as low as possible, $105 - the actual cost of materials, two lunches, and the breaks and reception for networking.

“I see this conference as a watershed event,” Sen. Akaka said. “An event for those committed to the health and productivity of Hawai`i’s forests.

Extensive information is online in the Hawaii’s Tropical Forest Recovery Act.