Kuleana, Pilina, and Aina: Reflections from HILT's CEO Laura Kaakua

After three months with Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, I am humbled by the immense kuleana of the Land Trust. The duality of kuleana is that it is both an obligation and a privilege. We have existing kuleana to care for the six preserves which we own throughout the islands, and to annually monitor and enforce the terms of forty conservation easements restricting privately-owned land. These protected places include habitat for native and endangered species, wahi kupuna or places of our ancestors, and fertile lands that produce food that feeds our families. In the Hawaiian worldview, land is the chief, man is the servant, as passed down in the olelo noeau "he alii ka aina, he kauwa ke kanaka". Our kuleana can therefore sometimes feel heavy, but there is also great joy in the work.

That joy comes from HILT's role in facilitating connection or pilina to aina. I find joy witnessing passionate educators at Waihee Coastal Dunes and Wetland Refuge teaching Pomaikai Elementary School students about mauka-makai connections. I am filled with joy and pride listening to Hauula youth telling ancient stories of area navigators and whales at the base of Maunawila heiau. When a light rain falls as HILT Kauai Island Councilmember Mehana Vaughn and her children start to chant honoring the places of Kilauea that surround us by the Wai Koa Loop Trail, there is joy in the many unseen connections. There is also hopeful joy in working on future protection efforts such as with Kona community members to restore and protect sandalwood forest on former pasture land.

Welcoming community onto the lands we steward so that they can form, strengthen, and deepen their own pilina to aina is at the core of our work. Aina literally means that which feeds. Within our Hawaiian word for land exists the vital concept of reciprocity. If we take care of the land, it will feed, nourish and sustain current and future generations. Practicing reciprocity is how we form pilina to aina. The Land Trust's camping policy is an example of how we embed these practices in how we welcome people on the aina we steward. We welcome camping at HILT's Waihe'e and Nu'u, Maui lands, but before anyone can camp, they must volunteer on the aina. We give before we receive. Through working the land, volunteers begin to form their own pilina to aina, and when they camp, they see the land through a stewardship lens. Not only do they pick up after themselves, but they collect marine debris, and often jump in to help with other volunteer projects. In return, the aina provides through starry skies, waking up to the sound of waves and birds, and memories made with friends and family. As we care for the aina under our current stewardship, and look to protect other threatened special places, we will uphold our kuleana, and welcome communities to deepen their own pilina to aina.

Aloha Aina.

— Laura H. E. Kaakua, CEO

Accreditation Public Notice


Hawaiian Islands Land Trust is a nationally accredited land trust, recognized by the Land Trust Alliance. The land trust accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. Every five years, HILT voluntarily applies for re accreditation. This is important to HILT for a number of reasons including:

  • Fostering continued implementation of all of Land Trust Standards and Practices.

  • Adopting evolving best practices in the field.

  • Confirming compliance with current accreditation indicators and program requirements.

  • Verifying an accredited land trust’s action on expectations for improvement.

  • Identifying and evaluating major changes in accredited land trusts.

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs.

HILT is pleased to announce it is applying for renewal of accreditation. A public comment period is now open.

The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications. Comments must relate to how HILT complies with national quality standards. These standards address the ethical and technical operation of a land trust. For the full list of standards see http://www.landtrustaccreditation.org/help-and-resources/indicator-practices.

To learn more about the accreditation program and to submit a comment, visit www.landtrustaccreditation.org, or email your comment to info@landtrustaccreditation.org.

Comments may also be faxed or mailed to: Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn: Public Comments: (fax) 518-587-3183; (mail) 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

Comments on HILT’s application will be most useful no later than July 15, 2019

We're Hiring!




Hawaiian Islands Land Trust is currently looking for an experienced Executive Assistant and Office Administrator. This position will play an integral role in the organizational strength of our nonprofit land trust. The Executive Assistant will provide administrative management support to the Chief Executive Officer, manage the Oahu office, assist the Development Director in donor communications and gift processing, assist the Chief Conservation Officer with communications, and answer and respond to calls and emails. Qualified candidates will have impeccable verbal and written communication skills, experience managing an office, experience managing schedules and competing demands of an executive, attention to detail, a proactive, self-driven work style, and will work well with the team.


●      Schedule meetings and coordinate the calendar of the CEO, and assist in managing communications of the CEO

●      Create and manage an organizational calendar

●      Assist in database management in coordination with the Director of Development to include gift entry and data management utilizing the organization’s CRM software

●      Assist the Chief Conservation Officer with schedule management and meeting follow-up

●      Coordinate staff meetings and consistent communication and collaboration of staff

●      Record dictation of staff to the database, following meetings, and conduct meeting follow-up

●      Conduct clerical duties, including filing, answering general phone calls, responding to general emails, expense reports, and preparing documents

●      Monitor and maintain office equipment; inventory supplies and order replacement supplies as needed

●      Create, update, and maintain personnel records, financial records, and other records/data

●      Perform accounting tasks, including invoicing, budget tracking, coordination with the organization’s book keeper, and making deposits

●      Assist with travel arrangements for office staff

●      Monitor incoming and outgoing mail; receive and sign for mail/packages from couriers and deliver to proper recipient

●      Prepare correspondence, documentation, and presentation materials

●      Take notes at meetings and prepare minutes

●      Coordinate volunteers to help with administrative tasks as needed

●      If the candidate is skilled in design/layout, the job responsibilities can be expanded to include design and production of outreach materials


●      High school diploma; associate’s or bachelor’s degree in business, administration, or related field experience

●      Significant experience in office administration/management, executive assistant experience preferred but not required

●      Proficient computer skills, including Microsoft Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint, and Excel), Google Drive and Google Docs, and a CRM software; scheduling appointments/updating online calendars a must; website maintenance a plus.

●      Highly organized multi-tasker who works well in a fast-paced environment

●      Willingness to learn and to grow with the nonprofit

●      Excellent written and verbal communication skills

●      Absolute accuracy and attention to details

●      Complete confidentiality and discretion, sound judgement

●      Demonstrated strategic thinking and initiative; self-starter and self-directed

●      Believes in the land conservation mission of Hawaiian Islands Land Trust

●      Familiarity with Hawaiian language and Hawaii’s history and land use is an added strength

●      Design and layout skills are an added strength

Qualified applicants are asked to submit their cover letter and resume by email no later than June 15.

Ka Moolelo o Waihee: Ke kumu o ka aina

The Story of Waihe’e: The source of the land

Walking along the coast of the Waihee Refuge today, listening to the sounds of the wind that the kupuna called Ka makani kili oopu, a 1.6 million year old story unfolds beneath your feet.  In some ways this story is the story of the entire Hawaiian archipelago, but there are some twists to this story that combine to make Waihee unique.  While humans have only walked this land for just over a thousand years, the geological forces that shaped Waihee are written in broad strokes across the entire landscape. 

The mountain that rises up from the refuge, variously known as Mauna Kahalawai, Puu Kukui, and sometimes simply the West Maui Mountains, is a geologically young 1.6 million years old.  Haleakala, visible across Kahului Bay, by comparison is a geological infant at a mere 1.2 million years old.  It is important to note, however, that the ages used to date these volcanoes, which geologists simply call shield volcanoes, are dated to the time when they reached their peak in height.  In reality, Mauna Kahalawai and Haleakala stopped growing 1.6 million years and 1.2 million years ago respectively.  Both mountains were undoubtedly substantially higher at their peak, but millennia of erosion has reduced their height, and on Mauna Kahalawai in particular, there are deeply incised large valleys where streams flow to the ocean today.  At the edge of the Refuge, the Waihee Stream flows into the ocean at a rate of about 15 million gallons each day. 

What gives the Waihee Refuge one of its most unique characteristics are the sand dunes that surround it, creating a hollow of sorts, a feature that contributed to the Hawaiian name for this area, Kapoho, or the hollow.  If Mauna Kahalawai is defined today by the erosion that shaped its many valleys, Kapoho is defined by these sand dunes.  These dunes, which geologists refer to as Aeolian, or wind-blown dunes, are the result of the power of the ice ages.  Typically, most of us do not think of ice ages as shaping these islands which lie in the northern tropics.  However, Waihee is a testament to the power of these frigid epochs to shape and transform landscapes even thousands of miles distant from the glaciers that shaped North America. 

Two ice ages are notable in the geological formation of Maui, Mauna Kahalawai, and Waihee.  The first occurred when Haleakala had recently completed its shield building phase and probably rose to an elevation between 12 and 14 thousand feet occurred approximately 1.2 million years ago. This glacial period occurred during the middle of the last geological time period, the Pleistocene, and was particularly severe.  With vast volumes of water captured in the northern hemispheres ice caps, sea levels around all of Hawaii dropped hundreds of feet; so much in fact, that the islands of Maui, Molokai, Lana’i and Kahoolawe became one massive island.  So large, that this massive island, known colloquially as Maui Nui (or great Maui), was approximately 20% larger than Hawaii Island is today.  The massive size of Maui Nui accounts for Maui’s incredible biodiversity, as large islands, unsurprisingly, capture the largest number of species flying (or floating) over the vast Pacific Ocean.  Little remains to be seen of this powerful ice age in Waihee today, but the signature of the next glacial period, quite literally surrounds the Waihee Refuge.

After a long period of a relatively warm global climate, approximately 21,000 years ago the earth, and the northern hemisphere in particular, went through another intense period of glaciation.  Known as the late Pleistocene ice age, and more specifically, the Wisconsin period of glaciation. Sea levels around Hawaii dropped approximately 300-400 feet.  Kahoolawe remained independent of Maui Nui island during this period, suggesting a less intense ice age than the previous glacial period.  However, because the fringing reef system in front of the Waihee Refuge had built up for well over a million years, its exposure and disintegration over the next 10,000 or so years created the sand that built up and formed the dunes that would, many millennia later, come to be called Mauna Ihi. 

Remnants of these dunes once extended from Kalaekahoomano, the point directly above the Waihee stream, through Wailuku around Kahului nearly to Waikapu. The dunes that once covered much of Maui’s central valley remained a prominent feature of the landscape, a testament of the power of ice ages to impact landscapes thousands of miles to the south.  While anthropogenic modifications have dramatically changed the landscape, in her travel journal English explorer and travel writer Isabella Bird described her travels between Wailuku and Haiku in 1873 as a trip through a “mini Sahara Desert.” Today, the 200 foot dunes of the Waihee Refuge are the last unmodified reminder of earths last glacial maximum.

Another striking reminder of the power of natural phenomenon to shape and carve the landscape comes when standing at Kalaekahoomano above Waihee stream, looking north west along the Kahakuloa coast.  The cliffs along this rugged coast are a reminder of the fragility of Hawaiian shield volcanoes.  For many decades, geologists have known that Hawaiian shield volcanoes are prone to what is sometimes described as ‘flank failure.’  Simply put, massive chunks of the volcanoes that make up Hawaiian volcanoes will shear off into the ocean.  The 300-400 foot cliffs along the Kahakuloa coast seem to be evidence of flank failure.  With the collapse of a portion of the mountain, the tsunami this event generated would have been catastrophic for any living (flightless) creature in Waihee.  Although no estimate of the volume of this catastrophic event has been calculated, by comparison, the massive flank failure on the island of Molokai approximately 1.5 million years ago, generated a wave estimated at a height of over 1,900 feet.  While the Kahakuloa flank collapse would have been substantially smaller than that, the numerous water worn rocks that line the coast of approximately half of the Waihee Refuge are a reminder of the intensity of these catastrophic events. 

Finally, as Mauna Kahalawai aged and eroded, the power of water became more prominent across the landscape.  While most of that water seeped into the basin that makes up the Waihee stream, a smaller, but substantial portion of that water flows underground, and emerges in springs along the coast.  While one large spring was located at the base of the sand dunes, numerous smaller springs are located within Kapoho, surrounded by the dunes, and these springs collectively make up the 27 acres of wetlands in the heart of the Waihee Refuge. 

Volcanoes, sea levels ebbing and flowing, flank collapses and the slow power of water each in their own way have come to create and shape this land that we have loved and cared for over the past decade and a half — an insignificant point in the great tapestry of time.  Understanding these geological processes is a reminder of our connection to the land, and how truly small we are within the vast scope of the history of the land. He alii ka aina, he kauwa ke kanaka (the land is the chief, and people are its servants), never rings more true than when we understand our place on the landscape.

— Dr. Scot Fisher

Hawaiian Islands Land Trust Appoints Laura Kaakua as New President and Chief Executive Officer

Hawaiian Islands Land Trust announced today that Laura Kaakua will be appointed as its new President and Chief Executive Officer starting in March 2019.  Kaakua will be replacing Kāwika Burgess who will transition to HILT’s Board of Advisors and lead HILT’s development campaign. “We are very pleased to welcome Laura to the land trust and are excited with the level of land conservation experience that she brings to HILT. The land trust is in a great position to ensure that the most significant natural and cultural resources on each district on each island are protected for future generations,” said Jonathan Scheuer, HILT’s Board Chairman.

Laura Kaakua from TPL.jpg

Kaakua is a graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi William S. Richardson School of Law, and has extensive land conservation experience having spent the last 9 years serving as the Aloha ʻĀina Project Manager at The Trust for Public Land.  She has also been a lecturer at the William S. Richardson School of Law and served as a Law Clerk for the Honorable Greg Nakamura in the Third Circuit Court. Kaakua is an alakaʻi of hālau hula Nā Pualei o Likolehua, a volunteer with Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, and served as a committee member of the Access to Justice Commission.

“HILT has worked with communities and landowners across Hawaiʻi to conserve over 18,000 acres of our most precious lands — from native forests, to ranch pastures, to coastal wetlands. I am grateful and excited to build upon the organization’s previous success, and continue to protect Hawaiʻi’s special natural places,” said Kaakua.

“I’d like to share my deepest mahalo to Laura for her extraordinary years at The Trust for Public Land’s Hawaiian Islands office, and congratulations to HILT for choosing such a promising leader,” said Lea Hong, The Trust for Public Land’s Hawaiian Islands State Director.  “Laura has shaped and led our Aloha ‘Āina Program, collaborating with Native Hawaiian communities across Hawai‘i nei to conserve lands that re-connect people to land and their culture.  I have no doubt that HILT will benefit from her talents and wish her the best of luck.”

“I am grateful to Lea and all of my Trust for Public Land colleagues and community partners for their incredible work over the years and for their support today. I look forward to partnering with The Trust for Public Land and other organizations and agencies to further our shared goals,” Kaakua said.