Federal study to look at creating a Hawaii national forest

Dec. 31—The directive for the study, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, was included in the 2023 omnibus spending bill that was signed into law Thursday by President Joe Biden.

The U.S. Forest Service has been tasked with conducting a study that could lead to the creation of Hawaii's first national forest.

The directive for the study, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, was included in the 2023 omnibus spending bill that was signed into law Thursday by President Joe Biden.

"This is way overdue for protecting some of the most unique forest resources in the world, " Case said in an interview. "And it will open up new avenues for financial assistance in our forests."

Case said more than 150 national forests across the U.S. receive federal funding to maintain healthy forests, conserve watersheds and wildlife habitats, reduce fire hazards and provide community recreational access. National forest designation also will allow for further research opportunities as well as other federal support and natural resource management.

Under the bill, the Forest Service has three years to conduct its study, a process that will include public hearings in the islands and consultation with state agencies and conservation groups. It would examine land on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii island.

Case, who also engineered passage of a bill directing the National Park Service to study the creation of a national heritage area at Oahu's Kaena Point, called the fact that Hawaii has no national forest "a glaring omission."

"Chalk it up to the mentality that a national forest should look like a classic eastern or western mainland forest, " he said.

Hawaii has a unique biodiversity that is currently not represented within the National Forest System, Case added, and it would be the system's first tropical forest. That, in itself, makes it an ideal addition, he said.

Bob Masuda, first deputy of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, earlier testified in Congress in favor of the national forest designation.

"The state and the U.S. Forest Service have a successful record of ongoing collaboration, " Masuda said in a news release issued in 2021. "We believe Hawaii's existing state forest reserves, watershed and endangered species protection programs would align well with a national forest in Hawaii."

DLNR's Division of Forestry and Wildlife manages over 1 million acres across Hawaii, or roughly 25 % of the state's land area. The division's responsibility includes overseeing forest reserves, natural area reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and game management areas.

The Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Region includes Hawaii, but all 18 of its national forests are in California. It does, however, maintain the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry in Hilo, which provides research and technical assistance and expertise to Hawaii and U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands.

The $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill, which averts a government shutdown and provides funding for the federal government through September, includes funding for a host of programs and initiatives requested by Case. They include :—$1.3 million to protect roughly 700 acres in Mau ­nawili Valley on Oahu. A proposed forest reserve would be managed by the state DOFAW in partnership with local nonprofits to steward the land, engage sustainable agriculture and restore cultural sites and loi, or taro patches. Mauna ­wili Forest is significant for historic and cultural resources and includes habitat for three threatened or endangered Hawaiian damselfly species, a forest bird (elepaio ) and four species of endangered Hawaiian wetland birds.—$1.8 million to assist DLNR's acquisition of nearly 1, 000 acres in Kaneohe. The Kaneohe Pali land includes freshwater springs, waterfalls, at least 11 streams and tributaries, habitat for a range of native plant and animal species and the historic Luluku banana patches.—$12.9 million in additional funding for the possible acquisition of Kaupo Ranch on the southern slope of Haleakala on Maui for the National Park Service. Kaupo Ranch is a key access point for the Kaupo Gap Trail, which is popular with hikers heading in and out of the crater at Haleakala National Park. The funding would help secure 3, 018 acres.—$1.7 million for DLNR to conduct forest protection and aquifer recovery activities for the Pearl Harbor watershed.—$64 million for the U.S. Geological Survey Species Management Research Program for efforts to help critically endangered Hawaii forest birds.—$175 million for the protection, research and management of marine mammals, sea turtles and other ocean species.—$80 million for the Sea Grant Program, which includes the Hawaii Sea Grant Program at the University of Hawaii, which works to promote healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, among other things.—$68 million for the federal Sanctuaries and Marine Protected Areas Program, including Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.—$34 million for the Coral Reef Conservation Program.—$31 million for deferred maintenance projects at Hawaii's national parks.—$19 million for the National Trails System, which will benefit the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail on Hawaii island.