By Robert Duerr
In the Kumulipo, the sacred Hawaiian creation text, there is no mention of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Kamapu’a, half pua’a (pig) and half man, however has a featured role as a powerful force and Pele lover. With the DLNR chair nomination of the Nature Conservancy’s executive director, Suzanne Case, hunters, fishermen and gatherers want to know if preservation tactics, like the eradication of the pua’a, will continue to remove food and tradition from Hawaii’s land and waters.
To his credit Ige understood that DLNR is first and foremost a real estate development and leasing agency responsible for 1.3 million acres of state land and 3 million acres of state ocean waters so Ching could work. This with a meager 1% of the state for a total budget of $98.7 million.
Then there is the added responsibility of managing 2 million acres of conservation district lands, water supply, fisheries, game animals, parks, reefs, endangered species, and Hawaii?s historic and cultural sites. This with 834 employees on a payroll totaling $39 million is daunting task has often been an exercise in futility.
Ching soon felt the slings and arrows of criticism because he was seen conflicted as a both real estate professional and lobbyist for Castle-Cooke. Twenty environmental groups, including Sierra Club and the Outdoor Circle, surrounded wagons while a 7,500 MoveOn petition and a caustic nine hour hearing pelted Ching’s nomination into oblivion.
“We need a [leader] of DLNR who has a proven record of fighting to protect and preserve our natural and cultural resources, not a career lobbyist for the development industry who has a record of calling for the elimination of cultural and environmental protections,” Sen. Josh Green of West Hawaii wrote in a statement.
Immediately when Case came forward as the DLNR nominee, hunters, with years of experience battling TNC for a game management conservation plan and not preservation eradication, saw the irony in Ching’s self-delivered obituary while under environmental attacks: “I’m not the fox in the hen house.”
A fox that is a lobbyist is Mark Fox, TNC’s Hawaii registered lobbyist. But under HRS Chapter 97-1(6) it could be argued that Case as the executive director is the lobbyist and Fox is the agent for which she is responsible.
“On the face of it Suzanne Case is a conflict of interest with the TNC partnerships and with the DLNR,” said Tom Lodge of the Hawaii County Game Management Advisory Commission. “The Nature Conservancy is also a real estate company. It doesn’t look good, doesn’t bode well.”
TNC is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. In reviewing both annual reports and IRS form 990 for fiscal year 2014 “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax” it is seen that TNC is a behemoth preservation real estate enterprise across the U.S and the world.
In their latest 990 “Statement of Income,” they claimed revenues of $708 million and assets of $6.1 billion. Land, buildings and equipment totaled $3.8 billion. The numbers are staggering. With their 2014 income showing $110 million in government grants it is seen that TNC is not shy about pitching preservation to politicians.
Makani Christensen, a Kamehameha schools and U.S. Naval Academy graduate and serviced in Iraq and Afghanistan graduate, is seen as the new school battling for land access, science, game management and food. He says of Case:
“Over the years many of us have witnessed the Nature Conservancy hindering many of our practices—hunting, farming, fishing and ranching. Weather it be a lease on lands, eradication of animals, no-hunting access, community based management, teaching our Keiki that there are no fish left in Hawaii…the list goes on. We have battled constantly with the Nature Conservancy to the point they have become our biggest advisories….One of the reasons we are together now in this fight is because of the Nature Conservancy.”
TNC in Hawaii owns 53,000 acres on 12 preserves. In 2003 it oversaw the largest conservation land transaction in state history: the purchase of the 117,000-acre Kahuku Ranch which was transferred to Hawai?i Volcanoes National Park. They have been active partners with DLNR most recently in the “Rain Follows the Forest” campaign
Case, who went to Punahou, Stanford and Hastings Law School, joined TNC in 1987. Case became executive director in 2001. She heads a staff of 76 people with an annual budget of $11 million. She oversees Palmyra Atoll, a preserve and research station.
With a mission “to conserve the lands and waters on which life depends,” what’s to dislike about Case or TNC? Hawaii fishermen, hunters and gatherers feel they are being pushed off the land and cutoff from traditional food by TNC. This process is found not only in Hawaii but worldwide and is what journalist Mark Dowie described in his 2009 work “Conservation Refugees.”
Ryan Kohatsu, a Hawaii County Game Management Advisory Commission nominee, describes the process:
“I think we’re all aware of the recognition the Nature Conservancy has on preserving nature. However, preservation goals sometimes conflict with conservation goals to preserve fishing or hunting in public areas…generally preservation is the non-use of resources to be maintained in pristine form in contrast to conservation being more broad to encompass the wise-use of resources like regulated hunting or fishing.
Dowie sees the conservation refugee process as detrimental to grassroots conservation efforts and estimates, “About half the land selected for protection by the global conservation establishment over the past century was either occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. In the Americas that number is over 80 percent.”
The basis of land and sea conservation in Hawaii has traditionally been the ahupua’a, the place of the pig. TNC pua’a eradication efforts has not endeared it to those on the ahupua’a:
“The Nature Conservancy demonstrated their game management policy as a fence, snare, and eradicate stratagem in Hawaii. This contradicts resource management…While we cannot turn back the clock on introduction of non-native, invasive species, we can manage our resources for conservation and offer an opportunity to benefit the general public. TNC, in typical authoritarian colonial practice, imposes their own draconian invasive species policy…has consistently rejected outright, proposed strategies and solutions to game management.” says Christensen.
Makani Christensen, with a small group of hunters, fishermen and farmers, met with Governor Ige at the his office to express concerns. Tom Lodge organized a teleconference with Suzanne Case.
Here lies an essential difference between the environmental community and the ohana of the ahupua’a. The environmentalists with their lawyer executives employ zero sum thinking wanting all or nothing. The Ching nomination real estate and lobby assault is case in point for this zero sum versus systems intregal thinking.
Not holding grudges the next case for the ahupua’a folks is to work with the DLNR nomination of Suzanne Case like it were an ecosystem. No one animal or plant controls the ahupua’a. Nature’s perfection is in the balance. Uptake from Christensen is that Ige is to be supported and Case though not loved is to be endorsed with “reservation.”
“On a more personal note, I am concerned that the current path we are on will heavily damage fishing or hunting prospects for our youth.” Kohatsu adds “I remain committed…to protect…the natural world… Should you become the Chair, I’m hopeful that we can maintain these efforts.”
Robert Duerr is active in the Outdoor Writers of America and a board member of Big Island Press Club. Has been coavering land and water public policy issues since 1986. He writes a monthly column called “Splash” for Hawaii Fishing News. He is in the process of editing the “Pahoa Project” — 70 hours of 4k footage, for a film about Tutu Pele and a call for sustainability in Lower Puna and beyond, featuring BIC Publisher Tiffany Edwards Hunt among others.