Sep 6 – Hawaiian cattle farmers want more eligible land to be transferred from the State Department of Land and Natural Resources to the State Department of Agriculture while the departments struggle to accommodate both local agriculture and environmental protection.
Over the past 20 years, DLNR has reportedly transferred more than 19,000 hectares of eligible land classified for agricultural use to the DOA after approval by the boards of both departments.
But the DLNR has been reluctant to give up some of the 100,000 eligible acres it still manages after discovering they are important for other purposes, including forest restoration.
It has been a problem for some ranchers who still lease land under the jurisdiction of the DLNR and say it harms agriculture and even land use.
In the case of Brendan Balthazar, the land he leased is being stolen from him.
Balthazar, owner of Diamond B Ranch in Makawao, Maui, told a working group that includes state lawmakers on August 23 that he is losing 60% of a leased property because the DLNR wants to make it available for reforestation.
“The state has informed me that they will take 2,100 acres of my 3,400 acres of lease to do forestry,” said Balthazar. “The state wants to increase food production. … That cannot happen if productive agriculture and ranch land are taken away.”
In a letter that Balthazar sent to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the land authority informed him that they would withdraw 2,168 acres from the border with the Kula Forest Reserve in June.
During this year’s legislature, the legislature passed House Bill 469 to create a working group to gather more information on the transfer of land between departments. Ranchers reported to the working group, headed by State Rep. David Tarnas (D, Kaupulehu-Waimea-Halaula) and State Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D, Kaupulehu-Waimea-North Hilo), on the encumbrances of leasing land owned by the DLNR. is managed.
The story goes on
Balthazar said he invested hundreds of thousands of dollars borrowed in infrastructure projects for the country, including putting up fences, digging wells and paving roads.
About 15 years ago he initially leased the property from a private owner, but changed hands a few times until it was acquired by the state and placed under the authority of the Landamt. Balthazar said his lease with the DLNR was still valid for about 10 years but also allowed the department to take back “part or all” of the land, which they did.
“What’s the use of the lease? The lease wasn’t as good as the paper it was written on,” Balthazar told the star advertiser.
In addition, the DLNR may force farmers to go to wars if they want to renew leases for land on which they have already made improvements.
That happened in 2002 at the Ponoholo Ranch on Kohala Mountain. It won an auction to renew its expired lease, “essentially buying back the improvements WE had made over the years,” the working group said in a statement.
That stopped farmers from improving the land.
“The public auction process discourages a tenant from taking care of the infrastructure,” said Lani Petri, who runs the Kapapala Ranch near Pahala. Petri has just completed the overhaul of the eleven mile fence adjacent to the Kapapala Forest Reserve, but she told the task force that she did so because “we believe there will be lease reform”.
In addition, many ranchers are temporarily occupying land with revocable 30-day permits, and month-to-month uncertainty makes running a farm even more difficult, the ranchers said.
Petri said 22,000 acres of her ranch are covered by a general lease with the DLNR that expires in eight years, but 12,000 acres have two revocable permits that “can expire at any time”.
Ranchers believe that the DLNR, an agency with a broad mission statement to “enhance, protect, preserve and manage the unique and limited natural, cultural and historical resources of Hawaii” by using land used for agriculture, takes over and restores conservation efforts such as making forests available, is relatively disinterested in promoting agriculture.
They prefer the DOA’s focus and expertise on agriculture and its lease options, which offer more stability and flexibility than leases and revocable permits from the DLNR.
At least recently, the departments themselves seem to have been at odds as to which parcels should be transferred.
The 19,000 hectares DLNR has transferred since 2003 makes up 242 parcels, but this year only three eligible parcels have been transferred, while 117 have been rejected, according to the DOA.
The Department of Agriculture reported to the Star Advertiser that in January a list drawn up by both departments contained 195 suitable parcels totaling nearly 104,000 hectares. The DLNR has declined to broadcast 68 of these, including for possible conservation and public reasons, and the DOA declined 49 after reviewing them for agricultural fitness.
The DLNR has yet to make decisions on 69 properties, and the DOA has yet to make decisions on six.
On August 16, during the first meeting of the working group, DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said the department at least “wants to hold the line” to ensure that the remnants of Hawaii’s native forests do not decline any further due to further human development advocated forest development. Many of the qualified parcels border on indigenous forests.
Case added that the DLNR considers agriculture and factors such as food sustainability in Hawaii when evaluating parcels.
Many of the land in question are also “multi-use areas” where activities such as farming, hunting and renewable energy projects can coexist, she said, but the DOA’s focus on agriculture allows other potential uses for such land to be considered .
“We’re not trying to crowd out anyone, but we’re trying to work together,” Case said before emphasizing the need to preserve Hawaii’s forests. “We don’t want our forests to be gradually eroded, as was the case in other places.”
Since the arrival of humans, 90% of the state’s tropical dryland habitats, 61% of its Mesian habitats, and 42% of its wetland habitats have been lost, according to the data compiled by DLNR’s Forest and Wildlife Division. Native vegetation grows on only 40% of the country’s area.
DLNR has stated that land under its administration can also be used to promote carbon sequestration, wildlife management and public access. It has generally excluded larger pastures from transmission because they have “high natural resource value”.
The Sierra Club of Hawaii also opposed the transfer of eligible land to the DOA while HB 469 went through state law earlier this year, arguing that it included water catchment areas essential for the provision of drinking water and a contribution to health Forests are important.
An agency like the DLNR and not the DOA is more suitable for maintaining this water supply, the organization said.
In line with ranchers, the Sierra Club has criticized the DLNR’s use of revocable permits but wants to change the way the ministry handles land disposition to address their concerns. An early version of HB 469 gave the DLNR similar leasing flexibility as the DOA, which supported the Land Department.
“The real problem behind this bill is the challenge for the ranchers to secure the correct land disposition from DLNR. We understand this problem, ”the Sierra Club wrote in a February statement against HB 469. “The right solution here is to establish DLNR’s process for handling land and water dispositions, rather than transferring specific properties from the agency that should manage them.”
However, those seeking a land transfer have argued that an underfunded DLNR has not been effective in conservation efforts on already designated land.
Balthazar is not against reforestation and said he would willingly compromise by giving up about 1,700 acres of land that the DLNR wants and which is already forested – which would save him about 400 acres of pastureland – but said the state-administered land as next to his farm was not looked after at all.
“The proof is in the pudding. It’s nothing that you can’t see, these aren’t the people who just talk,” Balthazar told the star advertiser. “You can come to my ranch and see what I did – you can see all the dried trees that I sprayed, you can see all the fireweed that is gone. And you can literally walk next door and you literally can’t walk in a straight line. It’s just hordes of wattle trees … fireweed, just totally run over. “
Nicole Galase, executive director of Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council, told the working group on Aug. 23 that conservation measures can be incorporated into the DOA leases so that the goals for both departments can be accommodated, but lands currently used for agriculture should be prioritized using that.
“Active producing land should be protected and kept in agricultural production,” she said. “The best way to do this is to transfer the leases to the Department of Agriculture.”