State looking to update forest reserve rules

  • The Division of Forestry and Wildlife says the changes would impact 678,000 acres statewide and 473,956 acres on Hawaii Island. (Courtesy map/Special to West Hawaii Today)

HILO — The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is proposing changes to rules regulating activity in the state’s forest reserves.

In a rule change guide, the department’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife says the changes, which would impact 678,000 acres statewide and 473,956 acres on Hawaii Island, are needed to address new technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, and provide more options for enforcement. The last comparable update was done in 1993, according to DLNR.

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Major proposed changes it highlights are establishing parking fees in high use and developed recreational areas, authorizing sustainable forestry or ecotourism with a permit, and requiring permits for use of drones.

The changes also include a new section that would allow the state Land Board chairperson to close parts of a forest reserve for up to 90 days in the event of an emergency or when deemed necessary protection of the environment and cultural resources, public safety, property or management activities.

DLNR says the section would allow it to respond quickly in emergencies where there are “immediate threats to public health and safety, such as in the event of a natural disaster.”

Closing or restricting access in forest reserves was an issue during the Thirty Meter Telescope protests a few years ago, where opponents camped on forest reserve land across from the Maunakea Visitor Information Station.

DLNR responded by creating emergency rules, later found invalid in court, restricting access within 1 mile of the Mauna Kea Access Road.

The proposed rules also contain new language on camping, which is technically prohibited without a permit.

But DLNR says the current language makes it difficult to enforce.

Instead of stating that residing within a forest reserve is prohibited, the rules would say: “No person shall camp, erect any tent, tarpaulin, or other structure, or use recreational trailers or other camper units within any forest reserve” without authorization.

Public hearings on the proposed changes will be held April 24 at the West Hawaii Civic Center and April 25 at the Hilo Forest and Wildlife conference room, 19 E. Kawili St. Both sessions will last from 4:30-8 p.m., with the hearing from 6-8 p.m.

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Comments can be submitted online or through mail by May 11. The proposed rules can be viewed online at http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/forestry/frs/rulechange.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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