Federal funding directed to Big Island to protect Kohala Mountain

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Federal funds are directed to the Big Island to help protect the forests of Kohala Mountain.

The Federal Office of Reclamation, or BOR, has awarded $1.9 million to protect forest and wetland habitats from invasive species and replant in riparian corridors. The chair of the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Suzanne Case, expressed her gratitude for the funding, which will also help protect the island’s freshwater supplies.

“Our forests capture moisture from rain and clouds in the high-rainfall Kohala Mountains, supplying water to the region, including the ditch systems that carry water from the mauka forest to the farms, ranches and agricultural users of lo’i kalo (taro farm),” Case said. “When hoofed animals strip vegetation to the ground, the steep mountain slopes of these ancient forests quickly erode, depositing muddy sediments on beaches and near-shore coral reefs.”

The funding will also benefit endangered plants and wildlife, carbon sequestration, and help keep waterways in good and healthy condition. It will help achieve the state’s Sustainable Hawaiian Initiative watershed goal of protecting 30% of the watershed’s priority forests by 2030.

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Currently, only 17% of native forests statewide are protected from the most significant threats, according to a DLNR press release. The project is in conjunction with the Kohala Watershed Partnership, a voluntary collaboration of large landowners and land managers who have partnered to protect the forests of the mountain range since 2003.

The BOR supports the project through its WaterSMART program, which works cooperatively with states and other local entities to increase water supplies. Case said the DLNR was eligible for the

“DLNR was eligible for this grant because of government matching funds provided by the legislature for watershed protection. This allows us to expand state funding for healthier forests and communities and more local employment opportunities to protect our ʻāina, on our way to achieving our 30X30 watershed goal,” said added Case.

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Lawmakers also expressed joy and appreciation for the funding. Senator Lorraine Inouye said projects like the WaterSMART program are essential for restoring and protecting native forests and continuing efforts to meet the 30X30 watershed initiative.

Inouye and Representative David Tarnas helped secure approval for state matching funds. Both say that improving the health of our forests, our watershed, and our water resources is essential for both the long-term health of our economy and the ʻāina.

“I am proud that the Legislature was able to provide matching funds to DLNR, which enabled the department to become eligible for this grant,” Inouye said. “This will go a long way to improving the quality of natural resources in the Kohala Mountains.”

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Tarnas said leveraging state funding to secure federal funding is an important strategy for state agencies to increase support for these important programs.

“Protecting watersheds protects drinking water supplies,” he said. “Every community in the Kohala Mountain watershed that uses public drinking water should be grateful for this support.”

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