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Hawaii State Land Board Approves “Safe Harbor Agreement” for Keauhou, Kilauea, Ka’u Areas on the Big Island

Approving a 50-year-long Safe Harbor Agreement today, the State Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) agreed to Kamehameha Schools plan to promote the recovery of endangered and threatened species on nearly 33,000 acres of forest and shrubland at Keauhou and Kīlauea on Hawaiʻi Island.

The Safe Harbor Agreement is a cooperative effort between Kamehameha Schools, DLNR, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to support the conservation of threatened and endangered (federally listed) species, while KS conducts certain land-use practices. It establishes baseline populations for species, details the type of habitat that must be maintained and specifies land-use practices to increase population baselines.

The agreement covers seven native birds including the Hawai‘i Creeper, the Hawai‘i ‘Ākepa, the Hawaiian Hawk (‘Io), the Hawaiian Crow (‘Alalā), and the Hawaiian Goose (Nēnē).

Hawaiian Creeper

It also includes the Hawaiian Hoary Bat (‘Ōpe‘ape‘a) and 25 plant species. The SHA outlines detailed monitoring protocols to avoid and minimize injury or mortality and to provide “net benefit” to the species. Net benefits include increasing the current ranges of covered species, restoring historic ranges and increasing wild populations of species. It is also intended to reduce habitat fragmentation by connecting a network of protected and managed state, federal, and private lands within the south central region of Hawai‘i Island.

In addition to the Safe Harbor Agreement, the BLNR approved an Incidental Take License, which provides mitigation measures in the event land-use practices result in the loss of any of the endangered or threatened species covered by the agreement. The result of an Incidental Take License is to end up with a net positive gain in the population of a covered species.

This Safe Harbor Agreement, which has been reviewed extensively for more than a year and was the subject of numerous open meetings, is being heralded as an important step towards species protection and recovery across critical habitat for these endangered and threatened species. Jackie Gaudioso-Levita, the ‘Alalā Restoration Project Coordinator for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife said, “The momentous finalization of this large-scale Safe Harbor agreement will particularly benefit imperiled species, such as the ‘Alalā, which will be reintroduced on State land adjacent to the Keauhou-Ka‘ū Kamehameha Schools parcel, thereby in-part, protecting and managing potential ‘Alalā habitat for decades to come.”

Kamehameha Schools CEO Jack Wong commented, “This agreement strengthens Kamehameha Schools’ ability to steward these lands in a manner that fosters healthy habitats for species fighting to survive. As we work toward a thriving lāhui, the cultural connection to ‘āina that is healthy and vibrant becomes much more important for Native Hawaiians and all the people of our State.”

Kamehameha Schools Ecologist Nāmaka Whitehead said that Hawaiians are Hawaiians because of the ‘āina. “Healthy, functioning native ecosystems are the foundation of Hawaiian cultural identity and well-being. Stewarding our ʻāina to be more resilient ensures that future generations will continue to have a relationship with the native species and ecological processes that make us who we are. I Hawaiʻi no nā Hawaiʻi i ka ʻāina. Our ʻāina, Hawaiʻi, is what makes us Hawaiian.”

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case added, “The vast acreage covered by this Safe Harbor Agreement is incredibly important to the recovery and perpetuation of these vital bird, bat, and plant species. We are extremely happy to have worked out this agreement with Kamehameha Schools and in the coming decades look forward to many great stories of native species success as a result.”

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