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Public access essential to caring for the environment

January 13, 2014 - 9:21pm

Hawaii County’s commission charged with buying land for preservation and a public-private partnership trying to protect mountain watersheds agree that public access is an essential component of protecting the environment.

The two groups, meeting Monday, discussed the importance of public access and agreed to see if there is any area where they can work together in the future.

“People have to have a connection (to the land),” said Cheyenne Perry, coordinator of the Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance, a partnership with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kamehameha Schools, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and other groups.

The county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission, which prioritizes projects and advises the county on spending the 2 percent land fund, encouraged Perry to consider the fund if opportunities to purchase land or buy preservation easements come up.

“The lands could be protected by leases,” said Commissioner Debbie Hecht. “Watershed lands should be preserved as no-touch areas. The 2 percent money could be used for preservation.”

Hawaii County voters have twice supported land-buying programs in the county charter that set aside at least 2 percent of property tax revenues every year for preservation and public access.

The Mauna Kea alliance, at two years old, is the newest of the three mountains’ alliances, Perry said. Its most recent project is creating a 500-acre gateway for indigenous birds to move up the mountain between native forests. The Kanakaleonui Bird Corridor is being reforested so birds can move mauka away from mosquitoes carrying avian diseases.

Other current projects include planting native trees and controlling gorse and other invasive plants. Native trees provide natural water recharge areas to protect watersheds such as the headlands of the Wailuku River, he said.

Unfortunately, Perry said, some of the project includes fencing off sensitive areas.

“Fences are controversial, but that’s what we’re using so far,” Perry said. “I’d like to find another way, but …”

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