Forest forum: Input sought on proposed Natural Area Reserve in South Kona

  • Community input on a proposal to add a 1,260-acre South Kona parcel to the Hawaii Natural Area Reserve system is being sought by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife. (Courtesy DLNR/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Yuen

  • The land, a forest situated in Waiea approximately 1.5 miles mauka of the Highway 11 and Hookena Beach Road intersection, is home to a variety of protected species including the i’iwi, akepa, the akiapola‘au and alawi that depend on a healthy native Hawaiian forest to survive. (Courtesy DLNR/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The land, a forest situated in Waiea approximately 1.5 miles mauka of the Highway 11 and Hookena Beach Road intersection, is home to a variety of protected species including the i’iwi, akepa, the akiapola‘au and alawi that depend on a healthy native Hawaiian forest to survive. (Courtesy DLNR/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Community input on a proposal to add a 1,260-acre South Kona parcel to the Hawaii Natural Area Reserve system is being sought by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

The land, a forest situated in Waiea approximately 1.5 miles mauka of the Highway 11 and Hookena Beach Road intersection, is home to a variety of protected species.

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“Many people recognize the scarlet red i’iwi with its long curved beak as a symbol of Hawaii, but there are also three other endangered forest birds that depend on Waiea’s forests, including the brilliant orange akepa, the akiapola‘au and the alawi,” said Emma Yuen, native ecosystems program manager. “All of these birds are only found in Hawaii and depend on a healthy native Hawaiian forest to survive.”

Waiea is adjacent to other parcels already designated as Federal Refuges and National Parks, which Yuen cited as a significant factor to the DLNR’s nomination of the parcel as a Natural Area Reserve (NAR).

“A major benefit to designating Waiea a NAR would be to create a large contiguous area under conservation management,” said Yuen. “Protecting this area will improve the watershed forests that the South Kona residents rely on for fresh water and reduce erosion into nearshore waters.”

A virtual hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 30 via Zoom, during which members of the public may testify or offer information on the proposal.

Testimony from the public hearing will go to the Board of Land and Natural Resources for a final determination, followed by a submission to Gov. David Ige for approval.

If approved, the land would be protected from any sort of development or logging. Though the reserve would be open for hiking and nature study, there is currently no public access to Waiea, as the land is surrounded by private or restricted property.

Yuen and the DLNR hope to open access should Waiea be approved.

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“The DLNR has successfully opened up many new accesses across the state, and bought thousands of acres for public use,” she said. “Opening public access requires partnerships with other landowners or purchase of lands, which takes time, funding and willing landowners.”

Those interested in submitting comments can mail testimony to the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Attn: Emma Yuen, 1151 Punchbowl St., Rm. 325, Honolulu, HI 96813, or email to Emma.Yuen@hawaii.gov. The virtual meeting will take place at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84542844544.

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