Commentary: What I want in the Next DLNR Chairperson

by Sen. Laura Thielen

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when we look back everything is different. —C. S. Lewis.

Dan Boylan has a column in this week’s Midweek asking what is needed in the next DLNR Chairperson. Here’s my two cents.

  • Hawaii is the Endangered Species Capitol of the world. We have decimated entire populations of life, and are rapidly continuing to do so;
  • Polluted waters running off land has killed our near shore estuaries and brutalized our reefs, decimating fisheries and marine life;
  • Invasive species are killing our native forests, reducing the waters that can reach our aquifers and choking our reefs – the two essential foundations for life on land and in our oceans
  • Developments stretch along our coast lines and uplands, blocking traditional practices and public access to beaches, ocean and forests – the public spaces where we practice religion, go to for sustenance, recreation and spiritual refreshment.

None of these things happened because of one, 10 or even 20 events. They happened because of thousands upon thousands of decisions over years.  Seemingly little decisions, like:

  • We can’t adopt regulations to reduce pollution running into the ocean – it’s too expensive.
  • We need a new hotel along this coast – its jobs and the backbone of our economy. People can still access the beach down the way.
  • Yes, its Conservation land, but the owner has the right to put it to a higher and better economic use, so we’re reclassifying it as “Urban.”

During this time, day by day, nothing seemed different. One by one these decisions are rationalized as necessary because each one has “little” impact on our natural and cultural resources.

But when we look back and remember what our islands were like when we were kids, we realize immense changes have happened. We realize that these thousands of decisions have permanently altered our state over the last 50 years.

The changes that took place in our islands since 1965 – the last 50 years – will be dwarfed by the changes that will take place over the next 50 years.

  • The impacts Japanese investments had on our economy in the 80s – a country with 130 million people – will be dwarfed by the rapidly growing investments from China – a country with nearly 1 ½ billion people.
  • The impacts climate change will have on our resources – including our water supply, our reefs and marine life, our beaches, and our watersheds – will be formidable.
  • The never-ending drive for economic growth built upon our old model of sprawling development will continue to erode our culture, our “sense of place” – the intangible essence of what makes Hawaii “Hawaii.”

Yes, we need a Chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Commission of Water Resource Management who understands business, development, and economics. Yes, we need to develop to meet our population’s needs.

But we also need a DLNR Chairperson who understands that the seemingly innocuous decisions made day by day are not innocuous. They are cumulative.

And unless they know that in their very heart and soul, and can explain it to the people who fight for the short term profit over the long term vision, and convince our public and civic leaders that we must follow a new path where development does not come at the expense of our environment and our culture, then we stand to lose at an escalating pace that which we cannot afford to lose.

Our Hawaii.

Editor’s Editor’s Note: Sen. Thielen chairs the Senate Committee on Land and Water, and was one of the key figures in defeating Governor David Ige’s nomination of lobbyist Carleton Ching to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

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