Hawai‘i Land Trust Preserves Special Places for Today and the Future
The nonprofit has protected over 20,000 acres, including shorelines, fishponds and sacred cultural sites.
He aliʻi ka ʻāina; He kauwā ke Kanaka. (Land is chief, and man is its servant.)
This is one of the guiding principles of the Hawai‘i Land Trust, a nonprofit founded in 2011 through a merger of land trusts on O‘ahu, Maui, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island. With community support, it strives to protect land through conservation easements, stewardship and educational projects, CEO Laura Kaakua says.
“A lot of the successfully protected lands, they all originated out of community drive to see a place protected.”
The trust has protected over 20,000 acres across the Hawaiian Islands, including shorelines, fishponds and sacred cultural sites such as Maunawila heiau in Hau‘ula on O‘ahu, she says.
It partners with landowners who want to donate their properties and preserve them via conservation easements – a legal designation that ensures lands are not transformed or developed against the owners’ wishes. On other occasions, the trust will raise money from government sources and private individuals to buy land.
“It’s an open, transparent process for the whole community,” Kaakua says. “A lot of nonprofits and private landowners have stepped up to have a stewardship role. … And the future of those lands was protected.”
Sometimes, when landowners want to develop their property and the community is opposed, the trust mediates conversations between the two sides. On other occasions, Kaakua says, the trust will try to ensure the development aligns with the land’s historical and cultural purposes and upholds aloha ‘āina values of deep love, respect and care for the land.
“In some cases, just based on the significance of that particular land, the community doesn’t support development there, because there might be very important agricultural or biocultural resources,” Kaakua says. “If that is the case we can sometimes step in and actually raise funds to purchase the property, so it becomes a win-win.”
From the start, she says, the trust has aligned with conservation-minded individuals. “They’re doing it sometimes primarily because of that love for their land. They get to know that they’ve contributed to something positive for Hawai‘i.”
One of the trust’s partners is Skyline Hawai‘i, a zipline company started on Maui, whose operations have grown to Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island. Their ziplines operate on over 20,000 acres of self-managed, preserved land.
Skyline’s owner, Danny Boren, values the partnership and friendship with the trust’s team, including Director of Land Stewardship Scott Fisher, and learning about conservation processes.
“We come from the commercial, business side, but also trying to get involved in conservation,” says Boren. “So having access to someone who has this conservation knowledge, like Scott and his team there, has really been great.”
He says Skyline Hawai‘i wishes to spread aloha ‘āina values to its customers. Boren believes that being stewards of the land should be a guiding principle for businesses which profit off Hawai‘i’s beautiful landscapes.
“We are in the business of showing the beauty of Hawai‘i, the culture of Hawai‘i. So, it’s our responsibility to try to perpetuate that, and there are people like Hawai‘i Land Trust, that’s what they do.”