food sustainability

Protecting the areas where we live, love, and build communities

  Protecting the Wao Kanaka: The Role of Hawaiian Islands Land Trust While there are a number of conservation organizations dedicated to the preservation of Hawai’i’s most pristine and remote areas, the Land Trust’s focus is on protecting the areas where people regularly connect with nature.

When the first Polynesians arrived in Hawai’i extensive forests stretched across virtually every island. They set about utilizing these natural resources to foster a strong and healthy community. Although these early settlers initiated significant changes to the landscape, their cultural paradigm of cooperation and reciprocity governed their interactions with both the human and natural world. These ideas of reciprocity and cooperation are embodied in the idea of aloha ‘aina, or love of land.

Expressed in a variety of ways, this connection was often described through the distinction between the wao kanaka and the wao akua. The wao kanaka constituted the lands, particularly the forested lands (wao), most accessible to the community and therefore providing the bulk of the material culture the Hawaiian people (kanaka) relied upon. Because of its critical importance to the life and well being of the community, caring for and conserving these resources became a critical part of Hawaiian culture. And, since human activity was most extensive in this region, the wao kanaka across Hawai’i is most marked by the evidence of past generations.

The wao akua (or forest of the gods) consisted of land not easily accessible by humans. As one author points out, Hawaiians understood the wao akua as a source of supernatural activity, remote, difficult to penetrate, and awesome. While excursions to the wao akua were relatively rare, it was in this realm that koa logs were harvested to become the canoes which united the various islands. It was also the place where forest bird feathers were collected to make the stunning capes worn by the ali‘i. For anyone who has spent time in the misty reaches of the wao akua, its power and influence does not soon leave you. Much important conservation work is taking place in the wao akua, with organizations HILT works closely and collaboratively with including the various watershed partnerships, the state of Hawai’i, and The Nature Conservancy.

HILT has protected some lands in the wao akua, but the bulk of our protected lands lie below. The wao kanaka, the areas where humans live, love, laugh and build strong communities, is where we cultivate our sense of aloha ‘aina. Conservation in these areas— through protection of agricultural lands, the cultural and historical sites that tell our stories, and our most threatened ecosystems—is vital to how we as a modern society continue to connect with the natural world. It is where we, as a community, must put our beliefs about our relationship to the land into action.

Protecting Our Working Ag Lands

Working ag lands, Hana Ranch, Maui As the conversation about Hawai‘i’s food sustainability hits a crescendo, here’s a ravishing idea: land conservation can play an increasingly vital role in securing—and forever protecting—agricultural lands for our working farms and ranches. In fact, of the 17,500 acres Hawaiian Islands Land Trust currently protects, 93% are agrarian.

Non-political by design, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust is a non-profit organization committed to working with private landowners, community groups, community leaders and government partners to protect Hawai‘i’s precious places. Using a variety of tools, we help landowners integrate conservation into their land use plans in perpetuity.

Quite often the main barrier to sustaining agriculture in Hawai‘i is the price of land. Because of high demand for real estate, the cost of undeveloped land can be astronomically high—hundreds of times more than agricultural activity could economically support. Plus, with land values that have skyrocketed in the last few decades, it’s increasingly harder for family-run farms to pencil out paying hundreds, thousands, even millions of dollars in property taxes. 

Conservation/ agricultural easements were used by Hana Ranch and Ulupalakua Ranch, both members of Maui Cattle Company, to protect their lands. A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement in which the landowner permanently limits the type and amount of development that can take place on a parcel of land. This agreement requires the Land Trust to protect the land forever, even when ownership of the land changes. Sometimes, the Land Trust purchases a conservation easement. More often, however, a landowner will donate an easement in order to place protective restrictions on future uses of their land.

Please take a few minutes to enjoy this slideshow and learn about our work to preserve our island’s agricultural lands.

Survey Says: Ten Million Acres Protected

Who doesn't love a success story? Here' s a great one: 10 million acres across the nation are now forever protected thanks to the work of land trusts over the past five years.

Can we declare a "Hug Your Local Land Trust Day"? Think about it as you read on...

A new report by the Land Trust Alliance shows that land conservation by nonprofit land trusts across the United States is thriving, with more than 10 million acres conserved from 2005 to 2010. Land trusts in Hawaii contributed to this success, reporting an increase of 3,668% in acres conserved over this period.

Says the LTA, sponsors of the 2010 National Land Trust Census: "Saving land has given America the chance to know itself again. When we look into the mirror of our national identity, we can now see farms, urban gardens, historic sites, mountains and rivers—not just strip malls, bulldozers and traffic jams. Through land conservation, we give people the opportunity to taste something of what it is like to be authentically human: children rolling in the grass of an urban park; a grandfather teaching his granddaughter the quiet art of fishing; a fifth-generation farmer growing vegetables on his family’s homestead—nourishing his community with both fresh food and a farm stand where neighbors gather. We set out to save land, but, in the end, we build community, preserve beauty and instill hope."

In HAWAII the report shows strong growth in land conservation.

Hawaii’s Trends in Conservation: 2005–2010 • Land trusts in Hawaii have protected 20,499 acres—this represents a 3,668% increase in acres conserved since 2005. Hawaii ranks 46th in the nation in acres conserved, and 3rd in the Pacific (CA, HI, NV ). • Land trusts in Hawaii drew upon the work of 3,060 active volunteers and the contributions of 777 members and financial supporters. • As a signal of the land trust community’s commitment to excellence, there is now 1 accredited land trust in Hawaii, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, which has protected 17,444 acres as of 2010.

Cue the rounds of applause.

[The Land Trust Alliance has reported on the status and successes of land trusts since its founding in 1982. The National Land Trust Census measures the pace and quality of the important conservation work of local, state and national land trusts in the United States.]


New article links land conservation and food sustainability

Food for thought about land conservation

The conversation about Hawai‘i's food sustainability is hitting a crescendo. An article in the fall issue of edible Hawaiian Islands is spot-on with it's timeliness and message: land conservation can play an increasingly vital role in securing— and forever protecting—agricultural lands for our working farms and ranches. Read the article here and get thoughts on the issue from Ulupalakua rancher Sumner Erdman, farmer Richard Ha of Hamakua Springs Farm, and pioneering chef and restauranteur Peter Merriman.

Of the over 17,500 acres Hawaiian Islands Land Trust currently protects, 93% is agricultural land. We are deeply aware of our role in the future food sustainability of our islands, and are passionate about securing more ag lands for local food production. In fact, it's right in our mission: Protecting the lands that sustain us.

Read about some of the working agricultural lands conserved with HILT:

Ulupalakua Ranch Puu O Hoku Ranch

We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on the topic with us!