STATE PURCHASES HAMAKUA HILLSIDE TO PROTECT MARSH IN PERPETUITY
Kaneohe Ranch has fulfilled a pledge to the community to preserve Hamakua Hillside in its natural state by selling the 67.18-acre Hillside, the iconic green backdrop to Kailua Town and a watershed that feeds Hamakua Marsh, to the State of Hawaii.
Four years after the state expressed interest in acquiring the hillside as part of its long-term plan to preserve Hamakua and Kawainui marshes, the state’s largest remaining wetland, the purchase was finalized in January. Hamakua Marsh is home to all four endangered endemic Hawaiian water birds – Hawaiian duck, Hawaiian moorhen, Hawaiian coot and Hawaiian stilt.
The purchase was announced by William Aila, Jr., director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, at a Feb. 13 news conference with the marsh and hillside as a tranquil backdrop.
With a Hawaiian coot and several ducks swimming behind him, Aila told a group of residents and journalists that the acquisition took more than 15 years of work by the state, various community and environmental groups, Kaneohe Ranch and the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation.
“It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” he said, flanked by Mitch D’Olier, Kaneohe Ranch president and CEO, and David G. Smith, a state forestry official who played a key role in restoring the marsh. “Hamakua Hillside is an important and unique place for wetland and watershed protection.”
D’Olier praised Randy Moore, former Kaneohe Ranch president, and Andy Engilis Jr., formerly with the environmental nonprofit Ducks Unlimited, for their earlier work to restore the marsh.
“Now this environmental treasure will be protected in perpetuity,” D’Olier said.
Smith told the gathering that 25 years ago, the marsh was full of alien mangrove trees. “It was completely overgrown,” he said. “You couldn’t even see the stream from here.” He said he hoped the hillside would be reforested with native trees.
Efforts to protect the fragile Windward wetlands go back to 1968 when Kaneohe Ranch sold 250 acres of Kawainui Marsh to the City and County of Honolulu. The city eventually transferred ownership to the state, to be overseen by DLNR.
Then, in 1994, individual Castle family members donated the 22.7-acre Hamakua Marsh to Ducks Unlimited with the understanding that it would restore the marsh pursuant to a plan created under a grant from the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation. Ducks Unlimited completed the restoration and transferred the marsh to the state in 1995.
The most recent part of this preservation effort put Hamakua Hillside under state ownership and DLNR management. To buy the hillside for $1.17 million, DLNR used State Legacy Land Conservation Program funding to leverage U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Land Acquisition Program funds.