A tribute to Aila and DLNR’s leadership

During these times of change at the Department of Land and Natural Resources, we want to recognize and acknowledge the extraordinary leadership and accomplishments achieved during the tenure of William J. Aila Jr., as chairman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Commission on Water Resource Management, and of his deputies, Jesse Souki and William Tam. 

As division administrators, we lead a combined 700-plus employees in 16 different divisions or offices within DLNR. The department and its divisions care for virtually all of the natural and cultural resources found across Hawaii, both on land and in the ocean. We have been truly honored to work under the leadership of Chair Aila, as stewards of our natural and cultural resources in service of the people of Hawaii. 

Aila began his career with DLNR as the harbor agent for the Waianae Boat Harbor in the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation in 1987. Aila was also well known as an effective and passionate voice for people on the Waianae Coast. In 2010, Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed him as DLNR chair.

The leadership qualities demonstrated by Aila and his deputies created a workplace climate described by long-time staff members as the best in DLNR history. Aila embodies an inclusive leadership style that is rare. His open door policy meant that he fielded phone calls, inquiries and complaints from constituents, lawmakers, and staff at all hours, every day of the year. This dedication is just one example of his complete commitment to the mission of the department. His ability to build consensus, listen to diverse voices, analyze complex issues, and his humor helped create a department that we are all very proud of.

Below are just a few of the many achievements accomplished during the tenure of Aila:

• Increased staff confidence in DLNR leadership

• Succeeded in bringing the 2016 World Conservation Congress to Hawaii

• Prioritized watershed protection through the Rain Follows the Forest initiative

• Worked with the community to avert confrontation on a variety of cultural and resource issues

• Established in Haena, Kauai, the first community based subsistence fishing area

• Instituted a vehicle permit system at Kaena Point to reverse decades of resource damage

• Expanded Hawaii’s Natural Area Reserve program, including installation of predator proof fencing

• Established a conservation easement for undeveloped land at Turtle Bay

• Achieved a settlement in the long-standing Na Wai Eha case

• Increased enforcement and conviction of natural resource violations

• Increased networks with other state agencies, private businesses and the military

Aila, whose post hasn’t been filled yet, is moving to the Department of Hawaiian Homelands as deputy director. Souki is returning to private law practice. Tam remains with DLNR for the time being. Together, they achieved a great many things, and we can unequivocally say that their leadership is deeply appreciated and will be missed at DLNR. Mahalo.

Dan Dennison, DLNR senior communications manager, and the entire DLNR team.

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