WASHINGTON — United States Sens. Mazie K. Hirono and Brian Schatz and U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Kai Kahele have introduced legislation that directs the U.S. Forest Service to assess the potential for Hawai‘i lands to be declared national forests, in partnership with local stakeholders from the state and community.
Across the United States, more than 150 national forests receive federal funding to sustain their health, conserve watersheds and wildlife habitats, reduce fire hazards and provide community recreational access.
The national-forest designation also allows for further research opportunities as well as other federal support and natural-resource management.
“Hawai‘i has unique biodiversity that is currently not represented within the National Forest System,” said Hirono. “At a time when our environment, species and watersheds are under constant threat, efforts like this bill can help identify forests in Hawai‘i that are most suitable to preserve as a national forest.
“As a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I urge Congress to take action so that the Forest Service can consider managing and conserving forest-ecosystem resources in Hawai‘i,” Hirono said.
“Hawai‘i’s rainforests are home to some of the most-diverse wildlife in the country, but hundreds of these species are endangered and in need of protection,” said Schatz. “Our bill is a critical first step to conserving these vibrant ecosystems and establishing our state’s first national forest.”
“Advancing establishment of Hawai‘i’s first national forest is long overdue, especially given that we have some of the most unique forest resources in the world,” said Case.
“A designated national forest at home would expand upon the Hawai‘i Experimental Tropical Forest by providing greater support for tropical-forest conservation and research throughout the Hawaiian Islands, provide great public access to lands for recreational activities and cultural practice, and help our Hawai‘i diversify its economy,” he said.
“The potential establishment of Hawai‘i’s first national-forest reserve is an important step toward the conservation and expansion of our unique and vibrant ecosystems,” said Kahele. “Hawai‘i’s finite natural resources, wildlife and endangered-plant species must be protected,” said Kahele. “A national-forest reserve here at home will help to ensure that for generations to come.”
State Department of Land and Natural Resources First Deputy Bob Masuda said, “The people of Hawai‘i share a passion for the lands and resources that have sustained our islands for generations.
“It’s ingrained into our culture and outlook. We understand that we live with finite resources on a limited land base. We are particularly sensitive to the threats of pollution, climate change and invasive species,” said Masuda.
”The state and the U.S. Forest Service have a successful record of ongoing collaboration. We believe Hawai‘i’s existing state forest reserves, watershed and endangered-species-protection programs would align well with a national forest in Hawai‘i.”
Hirono, Schatz and Case introduced this legislation last Congress. Case is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. This bill will be referred to Case and Hirono’s committees in their respective houses for consideration.
If enacted, the bill would require the Forest Service to submit a report within three years to Congress that includes results and any recommendations or conclusions.