Three Public Benefits to Conservation Easements in Hawaii

Waioli Valley Conservation Easement, Hanalei, Kauai

Although conservation easements are typically placed on private lands, they serve to benefit the public in a variety of a ways.  Three important benefits of conservation easements, especially here in Hawaii, are:

1)     Preservation of Agricultural Lands;

2)     Protection of Open Space and Scenic Landscapes for residents and visitors alike; and

3)     Protection of Cultural heritage

Conservation easements protect Hawaii’s agricultural lands and keep landscapes in traditional uses such as taro farming.  For example, HILT’s Conservation Easement at Waioli Valley ensures that this important farm land is protected from future development and degradation. The area has been in kalo production since pre-contact times and continues to be a major producer of poi for the state. By helping to support farmers, conservation easements can be a tool to promote a more diversified agricultural economy and support island self-sufficiency.  To date, HILT has conserved over 17,800 acres across the state, most of which are agricultural lands.  Farmers and Ranchers who decide to donate conservation easements over their agricultural lands can benefit from federal tax incentives, which in turn feeds into growing their businesses and stimulating the local economy.  Purchases of conservation easements of agricultural lands, similarly help to support farmer’s ability to expand existing farms.  In 2017, HILT launched an Agricultural Initiative to provide assistance to the owners of working farms, ranches, and forestry lands in Hawaii. By protecting agricultural lands, HILT supports statewide food security and sustainability.  In addition, preservation of agricultural lands through conservation easements regularly serve to protect other conservation values, including, open space, green ways and iconic views.

Waiakalua Conservation Easement, Kilauea, Kauai

Waiakalua Conservation Easement, Kilauea, Kauai

By preserving open space, conservation easements limit sprawl and help maintain rural character of our island communities. Communities across the state value open vistas and broad expanses of the remaining agricultural landscapes.  County General Plans and Community Plans reflect common themes of protecting rural character of small towns and communities.  Conservation easements are a highly effective tool in protecting these areas from an ever increasing development pressure. Indeed, conservation easements can preserve the places that make Hawaii --Hawaii; by preserving scenic overlooks and open space, easements serve to enrich our quality of life as well as, support the basic underpinning of our tourism economy.

Lastly, conservation easements protect cultural landscapes. Hawaii Revised Statute 198, the Conservation Easement enabling statute, specifically, defines one of the recognized purposes of a Conservation Easement in Hawaii is to [p]reserve and protect historic properties […], and traditional and family cemeteries.  The protection of historic sites and places of cultural significance serve to benefit all, as author Carl Sagan put it, “you have to know your past to understand the present.”  Through community stewardship of these areas, we gain a greater understanding of ourselves within the context of those who have walked paths before us.  A component of a conservation easement is a management plan; such plans detail the stewardship kuleana of the landowner and/or partnering community group.  Management Plans and/or other related agreements may entail establishment of community workdays and restoring traditional Hawaiian practices to a site. The conservation easement in itself is a collaborative document, which serves to bring together interested stakeholders in an area’s preservation. By protecting areas of cultural significance, conservation easements allow us to maintain connections to the past and ensure the same for generations to come.

For more information about conservation easements in Hawaii, please contact Hawaiian Islands Land Trust at (808) 244-5263 or visit us at www.hilt.org.