HONOLULU — U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Tulsi Gabbard recently introduced legislation in the U.S. House to explore the possible establishment of Hawai‘i’s first national forest.
“Hawai‘i is the most isolated island chain and one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world,” said Case. “Within our constrained borders, we have 10 of the 13 world climate zones, and ecosystems ranging from the deserts to the tropics where plants and animals that found their way to Hawai‘i evolved like nowhere else.
“Among our truly unique and endangered natural treasures are the only tropical rainforests of any state. Yet we are one of the very few states in our nation which has not recognized its special forest resources with a national forest designation.”
The legislation follows a measure that the two Democrats introduced in April that calls on the U.S. Department of the Interior to pursue another first for the state: the designation of a national heritage area.
“Hawai‘i’s forests are critical parts of our island ecosystems, home to the oldest living ancestors of this place — the flora and fauna that have so much to teach us about how to live sustainably,” said Gabbard.
”Our forests protect us from runoff, recharge our aquifers, provide habitat for native species, and connect us spiritually to this ‘aina. We must explore every avenue to protect them,” said Gabbard, who represents rural O‘ahu and the neighbor islands. Case represents urban O‘ahu.
A 2014 survey identified 9,975 endemic species in Hawai‘i, many reliant on Hawai‘i’s fragile ecosystem to survive. However, since the onset of human arrival, Hawai‘i has lost almost half of its native forest cover.
The National Forest System comprises 154 national forests, 20 national grasslands and several other federal land designations containing 193 million acres.
Its mission is to conserve land for a variety of uses, to include watershed management, research, cultural-site preservation, wildlife-habitat management and research and outdoor recreation.
The lawmakers continued: “Our Hawai‘i National Forest Study Act would identify parcels of land that could later be incorporated into a national forest that would fulfill the National Forest System’s mission. It would also help inventory how best to conserve and expand Hawai‘i’s native koa, ‘ohi‘a and sandalwood forests. This (national forest) designation would also assist with federal resources for management and protection.”
Both members say O‘ahu’s Ka‘ena Point, largely state-owned, is the perfect candidate for Hawai‘i’s first National Heritage Area given its unique cultural, historic and environmental heritage and qualities.
From designation of the first National Heritage Area in 1984, there are now 55 nationally, but none in Hawai‘i.