More Ka’u land protected

HILO — A recently announced conservation easement will protect hundreds of acres of agricultural and culturally significant lands in Ka‘u in perpetuity.

The Ala Kahakai Trail Association, Hoomalu Ka‘u, Kuahiwi Ranch, The Freeman Foundation and the Trust for Public Land recently announced the sale and acquisition of 772 acres in Kawala, dedicating the land for agricultural and cultural preservation uses in the future.

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“This conservation easement will preserve sections of an ancient trail system that connect the fertile fields of Naalehu with abundant marine resources along the coastline, including a culturally significant landscape with ancient Hawaiian sites and iwi kupuna (burials),” Keoni Fox, director of Ala Kahakai Trail Association, said in a statement from the Trust for Public Land. “My own kupuna are buried here, so protecting Kawala and its burial sites is especially meaningful to my ohana.”

The Ala Kahaki Trail Association, an organization helping to connect the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, will co-own the conservation easement, along with Hoomalu Ka‘u, a Naalehu-based nonprofit that aims to perpetuate, protect and conserve the land, culture, knowledge and history of the district.

Lea Hong, state director of The Trust for Public Land, which helped facilitate the deal, said with a conservation easement, restrictions placed on the land are recorded in the Bureau of Conveyances, and if the land is sold or inherited, the restrictions go with it.

“It’s a win-win,” Hong said Friday. “It allows the ranch to continue their ranching operation, and it allows Ala Kahakai Trail Association to maintain agricultural open space and preserve the cultural sites on the property.”

According to Hong, Kuahiwi Ranch animals graze on about 9,000 acres, but this was the first property the farm had purchased and owned, “so it’s expensive.”

Kuahiwi Ranch then asked the Trust for Public Land for assistance to restrict future land use to agricultural with a conservation easement.

The Freeman Foundation provided financial support towards the purchase of the easement.

“We are extremely grateful to The Freeman Foundation for generously supporting our Ranch’s vision. Proceeds from the Conservation Easement will reduce our family’s debt incurred to buy the land and allow us to reinvest in our ranch,” Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch said in the statement. “Our family is passionate about growing free-range, grass fed beef and contributing to Hawaii’s food security. We are committed to partnering with the Ala Kahakai Trail Association and the broader community to enable our ranching operations to co-exist and compliment the preservation of the cultural and natural resources on this property.”

Hong said such easements are “win-win tools for conservation that are voluntary instead of folks fighting or picketing. It’s really a wonderful way for landowners in the community to achieve both conservation and landowners’ goals … .”

This is the second of five conservation projects along the Ka‘u coast to close. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The trail association, state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Legacy Land Conservation Program, Ka‘u Mahi LLC and The Trust for Public Land, announced the sale and acquisition of 2,317 acres known as Waikapuna in December. That conservation easement, the first purchased under the county’s Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation program, is owned by the county and also restricts land use to agricultural and cultural preservation uses.

Pending conservation efforts include the Manakaa fishing village, Kiolakaa and Kaunamano.

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All five projects would conserve more than 6,000 acres of coastline, cultural sites, pasture land and connect more than 10 miles of the Ala Kahakai trail.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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