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.

Making the Case for Conservation: Fundraising for Our Future

Eighteen years ago, a group of concerned community members organized a collaborative effort to save a coastal area from becoming a private resort. They successfully saved what is now known as the Waihee Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge. Today, the 277-acre Refuge is critical native plant and wildlife habitat, a nature preserve where families recreate and recharge, an outdoor classroom to thousands of local students annually, and a sanctuary to several heiau. Upon visiting the Refuge, the specialness of the place can be physically felt.  The loi kalo ia here produced enough taro and fish to feed thousands. Queen Kaahumanu was known to visit here, as her parents lived here for a time. King Kamehameha the Great, with Liholiho, reconsecrated the Kealakaihonua heiau here, an act that fortified the strength of his kingdom. Off the coast, the extensive reef is one of the longest and widest on Maui. If one were to pause to reflect on the area’s history, one might wonder if that specialness would have been as palpable if the Refuge had become a private luxury resort. If the wetlands had been replaced by tennis courts and swimming pools, and the goddess Haumea’s sacred dunes bulldozed for hotel rooms, restaurants, and spas, would we still feel the magic of the land?

The group of people that organized to save Waihee Refuge, who became the Maui Coastal Land Trust (who later merged with neighbor island land trusts to become HILT) and the extended community that supported their efforts were reacting to an immediate threat to a beloved place. They may not have known it at the time, but these actions had lasting impacts that united people in an effort to preserve land in perpetuity. Communities will be benefit from their actions long after you and I are gone. These people were visionary.

However, the reason Waihee is what it is today is due to the sustained support of the community over the last eighteen years. They may have initially responded to the call of an immediate threat, but their determination remained long after Waihee was saved.

There are few causes you can support where the actions you take will benefit people today as well as decades or centuries from now. Environmental causes, specifically land trusts, are among those making the promise of perpetuity.

Beyond the obvious health benefits of clean water and clean air, support for environmental causes can provide additional benefits such as improved mental health, lower crime, and a stronger economy. And yet, government, foundation, and individual support for the environment and climate change adaptation are still achingly low. Generational shifts in giving and increased awareness of human impact and damage, are making environmental causes the fastest growing nonprofit sector in the United States. However, environmental nonprofits are among the lowest funded charitable causes, receiving just 3% of all giving.

Islands in the Pacific are at the highest risk for climate change related devastation. Flooding, erosion, stronger and increased storm activity, and hotter relative temperatures are all things that we, in Hawaii, are seeing and feeling right now. In 2018, we saw the people of Hawaii come together quickly and generously to help those suffering from a number of environmental disasters. Lava flows and flooding destroyed homes and displaced entire communities.

But when the message is not as urgent, the need not as immediate, when the call to action is to prepare beyond today, how do we respond? Environmental nonprofits have a difficult task in helping donors feel the same present urgency for protecting habitat and cultural land as they do when disaster strikes.

Considering the role of the nonprofit in making the case for support: are we communicating the right message in the way to the right people?

For the most part, fundraisers divide themselves into two methods of messaging. The first maintains that we should use the natural human instinct for loss aversion, or the tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains, to our advantage. The theory is that funding will increase if we successfully use facts and evidence to communicate what specifically will be lost if support for environmental causes isn’t given.

The second method uses another aspect of human psychology: The Ostrich Effect. This term refers to people’s tendencies to avoid difficult situations or bad news. In theory, if talking about facts and threats makes donors want to run in the opposite direction, we should make a case for support that highlights opportunity, solutions, and preparedness.

You may recognize both of these tactics. A variety of nonprofits use them, not just environmental causes. I have used them myself, here with HILT in letters to donors or in creating our annual appeal. I am challenged daily with how to effectively convey the urgency and necessity of what we do, the continuing need for support, and the incredible impacts and successes we’ve had, without diminishing the severity of the challenges we face.

Thankfully, HILT has a base of donors who have seen the impact and value of the work we do (possibly many of you reading this right now) who faithfully and generously support us every year. However, if we are to do more, and if we are going to continue our work over the next 10, 20, or 100 or more years, we must continually attract new donors. New donors who, similar to that visionary group of people who came together to save Waihee, understand that our futures and our way of life are inexorably tied to our environment and the need to take and sustain action now so our children will have a better future. Let's reach out and empower the next generation of Waihee visionaries.

— Angela Britten

What kinds of messages do you respond to? Take this fun quiz to find out!

Hawaiian Islands Land Trust and Wai Koa Plantation Announce Agreement to Protect the Popular Wai Koa Loop Trail on Kauai

Hawaiian Islands Land Trust and Wai Koa Plantation announced today that that an agreement has been reached to preserve the popular Wai Koa Loop Trail in Kīlauea Kauaʻi.

Joan Porter, owner of Wai Koa Plantation stated, “My family and I are very pleased to work with the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust to protect and preserve this popular walking trail for the people of Kauai.  Wai Koa was very special to my husband, Bill, and I know he would be deeply grateful for the opportunity to conserve it in perpetuity.” The agreement will ensure that the trail and access to the scenic Stone Dam will be preserved for future generations.

“The Hawaiian Islands Land Trust is excited that this trail which provides significant scenic and outdoor recreational opportunities for Kauai’s residents will be preserved and continue to provide for the health and well-being of the people of Kauai,” said HILT CEO Kawika Burgess.

The Wai Koa Loop Trail is a 4.5-mile hiking trail located in Kilauea Kauai and can be accessed through the Anaina Hou Community Park located at 5-2723 Kuhio Highway in Kilauea, Kauai. The hike is free, but hikers are asked to sign a waiver at Anaina Hou where maps of the trail are also available. The trail provides beautiful views of the Namahana Mountains, an historic stone dam, the Kilauea Forest, as well as the largest mahogany plantation in the United States. The trail is open from 9:00 am to dusk and takes between 2.5 to 4 hours to complete the hike. For more information about the trail visit: http://anainahou.org/park-features/the-wai-koa-loop-trail/.

Hawaiian Islands Land Trust Announces Protection of Kapalua Open Space

Hikers enjoy the Kapalua Coastal Trail

Hikers enjoy the Kapalua Coastal Trail

KAPALUA, Maui — January 7, 2019 — Hawaiian Islands Land Trust announced today that the Sue D. Cooley Trust (“Cooley Trust”) has donated a conservation easement to preserve a 1.2-acre property in Kapalua, Maui and a substantial gift to support HILT’s Maui Island Program.  

Bob Gilliom, representing the Cooley Trust stated, “Our family is very pleased to work with the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust to protect and preserve this land as an open space along the Kapalua Coastal Trail and to support HILT’s conservation efforts on Maui. The conservation easement will ensure that the land will remain as open space for future generations.”   The land will be owned and managed by Kapalua Resort Association, who will work closely with HILT to maintain and enhance the land as permanent open space.

“The Hawaiian Islands Land Trust is very thankful to the Sue D. Cooley Trust for their efforts to preserve this land in West Maui and for their incredible generosity and support for our work to protect and steward the most special places here on Maui,” said HILT CEO Kawika Burgess.

Request for Proposals

ORGANIZATION: Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (HILT) is a nationally accredited 501(c)(3), non-profit organization that protects over 18,000 acres of land in Hawaii with scenic views, agricultural resources, wildlife habitat, water resources, cultural and historical sites, and outdoor recreational opportunities. Established in 2011 as a merger of four land trusts on Hawaii Island, Maui, Oahu and Kauai, HILT complements the stewardship others are providing for mountaintop watersheds by concentrating largely on needs and opportunities for coastal and agricultural lands.

SUMMARY: Hawaiian Islands Land Trust is seeking proposals for a contract to support HILT’s land acquisition and protection program including the acquisition of conservation easements and fee simple projects in Hawaii.


  • Work with HILT staff, board of directors, advisors, and island councils to develop and implement a three-year strategic acquisitions strategy and outreach strategy.

  • Conduct outreach to prospective landowners to promote conservation easements and voluntary conservation programs available to landowners.

  • Coordinate outreach with other providers of conservation programs including the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to provide a minimum of four (4) public outreach forums on agricultural easements.

  • Manage fee simple and conservation easement acquisitions including negotiation of Letters of Intent, Purchase and Sale Agreements, Conservation Easements, Baseline Documentation Reports, and Management Plans.

  • Conduct due diligence, order and review transaction documents including title reports, appraisals, surveys, and environmental studies.

  • Communication and coordinate with communities, stakeholders, and others involved in HILT’s land protection projects.

  • Help facilitate the approval of projects through the HILT Land Committee and Board of Directors.

  • Assist in the drafting and manage grant application for funding of HILT’s acquisitions through City, State, Federal, and private grant programs.

  • Manage transactions through to closing.

  • Provide updates and regular communications to HILT’s CEO, HILT Board of Directors, Island Councils, and HILT staff.


Will require regular travel to neighbor islands


  • Passion for the mission of the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust

  • Three years of experience in land conservation and real estate transactions

  • Ability to negotiate land transactions

  • Knowledge of Hawaii and county land use laws

  • Knowledge of Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources

  • Bachelor’s degree

Parties interested in submitting a proposal for the Scope of Work provided, please submit the following to info@hilt.org.

  1. Statement of Qualifications

  2. Hourly Rate

  3. Three (3) References