South Kona cloud forest protected

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A 1,000-acre swath of South Kona mauka forestland has been placed under protection from development.

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A 1,000-acre swath of South Kona mauka forestland has been placed under protection from development.

The land, located in the Kaawaloa Forest between 2,300 and 4,300 feet in elevation, is rare native wet forest with a diversity of indigenous plants, trees and birds, said Greg Hendrickson, real property administrator for Hokukano Ranch, the property owners.

The Pace family, which owns the land, has agreed to a $3.2 million conservation easement with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The easement is funded by the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program. Pace donated more than 25 percent of the total property value to the easement purchase, said DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward.

“The primary goal is to eliminate subdivisions and development,” Hendrickson said. “Kaawaloa is the next piece in creating a nice network of properties under sustainable management.”

The land — zoned for 20-acre agricultural lots — joins over 9,000 adjacent acres at Kealakekua Heritage Ranch, which were placed in similar conservation status in 2011. Located about 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona, the land had been approved for 500 lots and a golf course under previous ownership and mid-1990 Hawaii County approvals.

Instead, forest products must be harvested at sustainable levels and development is permanently restricted, helping to safeguard the watershed draining into Kealakekua Bay, according to a joint statement by DLNR and the Forest Service. The owners are currently working to regenerate native forests on the property, where plant collection, tourism and hunting also take place. The region’s forests suffered historically from over-harvesting of koa and other native trees and damage from grazing.

The Kaawaloa easement connects the Heritage Ranch tract with the state Onouli Forest to the north, creating an unbroken swath of protected land extending some 50 miles south to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“The partnership we have with DLNR is invaluable as we look to restore and protect these crucial resources,” said Randy Moore, regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, in a press release. “We are excited for DLNR to pick up this conservation easement and add to our total of 47,055 protected acres on the Big Island.”

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Grants to the state for conservation of key lands are provided through the Forest Legacy Program, which in turn draws funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Authorization for the fund is set to expire this year but can be renewed through current legislation.

Other South Kona land put under easement protections through the Forest Legacy funding include the 8,000-acre Kona Hema Preserve and a 3,128-acre McCandless Ranch parcel.

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