By Rob Parsons
With the arrival of Earth Day each spring, our focus is sometimes drawn to the difficult environmental challenges we face, here in Hawaii and globally. Whether we choose to take on invasive species, cane-burning, climate change, biotech seed corporations, storm runoff, or the ever-increasing human population that’s the root cause of all our eco-issues, the enormity of what’s needed to solve the problems often lends a David and Goliath dynamic.
Yet, as Paul Hawken expressed in his 2007 novel Blessed Unrest, many organizations and people around the world are helping restore the environment and foster social justice. That’s why I’d like to highlight heartening eco-efforts here in the Hawaiian Islands that for many may still be flying under the radar.
Little Fire Ant funding
We brought in the New Year with news that a very nasty, itsy-bitsy invasive pest had landed on Maui, hitch-hiking on a hapu‘u log shipped from the Big Island, where they are already well established. Thanks to the awesome outreach and inspection efforts by Maui Invasive Species Committee, and Mayor Alan Arakawa urging the state legislature to dedicate funding, there’s hope that the threat has been quelled, for now. No new infestations have been reported on Maui since December, though airport and harbor ag inspectors intercept them regularly in shipments. And, according to Josh Atwood of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council, Senate Bill 2920 that would add nearly $1 million for little fire ant control, education, and a dog-detection program is still alive at the state Legislature.
Don Guzman’s Ag Working Group
Determined to do a better job at supporting local farmers and to address inconsistencies in how County agencies define agriculture for tax, planning and water use purposes, freshman Councilmember Don Guzman formed an ad hoc group that has met twice monthly for the past year. Nearly two dozen strong, and including nearly every imaginable sector of local farming, the Ag Working Group (AWG) has been a fertile field of input for Guzman’s Economic Development, Energy, Agriculture and Recreation Committee. The group includes ranchers, farm stand operators, organic farmers, and growers of taro, coffee, breadfruit, flowers, and more. The AWG adds another layer of hope to achieving better success in raising more locally food to offset imports, and thus bolstering the green economy.
The Hawaiian Village
Tucked into verdant Waihe‘e valley is an amazing restoration of taro lo‘i, reclaimed from invasive java plum and guava thickets that dominate the area. The Hawaiian Village, a low-key tourist destination and ongoing educational site for students, is steeped in cultural authenticity and feels very much like a trip back in time. Three traditional Hawaiian hale have been built (two more are in progress), where visitors can learn how to pound poi, make and dye kapa cloth, prepare a cooking imu and more. A labor of love by the Hewahewa family, Alika Atay, Josh Chavez and many more, this ongoing effort at sustainable living is an example that Hawaiian values and culture are still with us today. (For more info check out Mauihawaiianvillage.com.)
Division of Environmental Protection and Sustainability
Included in Mayor Arakawa’s proposed Fiscal Year 2015 Budget is a reorganizational new focus for the Department of Environmental Management, which currently addresses primarily Solid Waste and Wastewater programs. A charter amendment on the November 2012 ballot to add environmental protection and sustainability to the functions of that department was passed by more than 66 percent of voters. County Council members will debate whether we can afford to add a couple new positions to address the myriad of issues, policies, and programs which could be the thrust of this new division. The real question might be, can we afford not to embrace this community-supported initiative?
Hawaii Green Growth
While many organizations state wide are addressing aspects of sustainability, one group—Hawaii Green Growth (HGG)—is doing the heavy lifting to coordinate those efforts, and connect them to the vision outlined in the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Master Plan. With broad participation from leaders in state government, University of Hawaii, nonprofit and citizen action groups, HGG is embarking on a Measures Project that will set goals and baselines in six areas of sustainability: energy, natural resource conservation, food self-sufficiency, green jobs and education, waste reduction and smart communities. HGG has scheduled a two-day meeting on Maui this coming August, with local participation.
Aloha + Challenge
HGG has worked diligently to include the state’s elected officials in a shared vision for our sustainable future. Molokai’s Audrey Newman, State Sustainability Coordinator Jackie Kozak-Thiel and Maui-born Breanna Rose are doing much of the heavy lifting. Newman, who is also a senior advisor with the Global Island Partnership, helped conceive of the Aloha + Challenge, modeled after other successful efforts including the Micronesian Challenge launched by Palau President Tommy Remengesau, who visited Maui last year. Concurrent House and Senate resolutions supporting the A+C have passed unanimously at the state legislature. An announcement is in the works for June, with all four mayors, the governor, and the head of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs taking a pledge to work together towards shared targets and goals.
West Maui Ridge 2 Reef Initiative
Many state and federal agencies are working together in a project to restore and enhance the health and resiliency of West Maui coral reefs and near-shore waters, focusing on the Wahikuli and Honokawai watersheds. Guided by watershed coordinator Tova Callender, the WMR2R builds upon existing work to reduce pollution and restore coral reef ecosystems within the 24,000 acres of these watersheds, serving as a learning tool for other regions throughout Hawaii and beyond. (For more information, visit westmauir2r.com.)
U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting
A primary reason the WMR2R has funding support is because the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force designated those watersheds in 2011 as primary management areas. It so happens that a large contingent of the USCRTF will be meeting in Maui this September, meaning there will be great opportunities for learning exchange, as well as garnering support for long-term protection and restoration of Maui’s watersheds and near-shore coral reef ecosystems.
World Conservation Congress 2016
Perhaps Hawaii will also be the backdrop for an international gathering of environmental leaders. Istanbul, Turkey and Honolulu, Hawaii have both submitted formal proposals to host the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2016. Last held in Jeju, Korea in 2012, the WCC addresses, “the world’s most pressing sustainable development challenges, [and] offers a unique platform for debates, workshops, dialogues, roundtable discussions, training courses, music and exhibitions.” A decision on which city will host the forum in 2016 will come on May 21.
Rob Parsons is a 35-year resident of Maui and former MauiTime columnist. He currently serves as Maui County Environmental Coordinator.
Photo of little fire ants: Greg Hume/Wikimedia Commons