HONOLULU – Hawai‘i farmers and ranchers who have enrolled in a joint state and federal program to establish conservation easements that promote restoration of degraded agricultural lands and sustainable land management practices, are invited to submit requests for reimbursements to the Hawai‘i Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).
The reimbursements are intended to support the continued efforts of nonprofits and landowners interested in conservation easements throughout the state.
Under the Hawai‘i Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), funding support is available to assist with conservation easements in eligible areas that support the restoration of degraded agricultural lands and protect these lands from development or conversion, and to promote sustainable land management practices across the state.
Eligible lands for the Hawai‘i CREP include agriculturally productive lands on the islands of Hawai‘i, Maui, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, O‘ahu, and Kaua‘i that are in need of some level of restoration.
DLNR’s principal objective for this request is to support the establishment of conservation easements on eligible CREP lands, and as such is offering assistance to nonprofits and landowners that have, or will close, a conservation easement during this State fiscal year.
The Hawai‘i Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program aims to encourage Hawai‘i farmers and ranchers to participate in an innovative conservation program that will help restore habitats of native Hawaiian species, improve water quality in stream systems, reduce the spread of invasive species and enhance coastal and coral reef health.
In April 2009, the CREP program began to voluntarily enroll farmers and ranchers who wanted to commit to conservation practices — such as converting the land to native trees, shrubs, grasses and other vegetation or wetland restoration measures. In return they will receive incentive rental payments and cost-share reimbursement for their expenses. This reimbursement process is now underway.
Hawai‘i CREP aims to enroll up to 15,000 acres of marginal pastureland and cropland that will be converted to natural areas over 20 years. This land-based restoration will improve water quality and wildlife habitat and protect vital watersheds and riparian areas on agricultural land on six of the main Hawaiian islands.
For information on the Hawai‘i CREP and this solicitation for reimbursements, go to www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dofaw/crep. Copies of this request are also available at 1151 Punchbowl Street Room 325, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813 or by contacting Irene Sprecher at Melissa.I.Sprecher@hawaii.gov or calling (808) 587-4167.
Proposals in response to this solicitation are due by June 3, 2010 at 4 p.m. to the Division of Forestry and Wildlife at the address provided below. The division will evaluate all responses to this solicitation, and can provide assistance with required due diligence materials associated with conservation easements (due diligence materials may include necessary compliance documents such as appraisals of land value, environmental site assessments, and title reports, among others).
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is a 20-year incentive program administered by the U.S. Department of Agricultural Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
The program seeks to encourage farmers and ranchers to voluntarily remove targeted lands from agricultural production and enact watershed conservation practices for the purpose of restoring native habitat for rare, threatened or endangered species; increasing groundwater recharge; controlling the spread of invasive species; enhancing stream water quality; reducing coral reef degradation; and enhancing near shore coastal waters.
Farmers and ranchers interested in this innovative conservation program may apply with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) at their local United States Department of Agriculture Service Center. In April 2009, the Hawaii CREP program began to voluntarily enroll farmers and ranchers on the islands of Hawai‘i and Maui in 2009 and 2010; and will expand later to Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Kaua‘i and O‘ahu through 2013.
Through the use of conservation easements, as well as other financial and technical assistance tools to landowners and land managers, Hawai‘i CREP aims to target and improve environmentally sensitive areas in the state.
With this collaboration of Federal, State and local governments; nonprofit conservation organizations; and private landowners, Hawaii’s natural resources can be effectively protected, managed, and sustained for the public and the future of our islands.
Conservation easements are a relatively new tool in conservation management that allows a landowner to retain their property and at the same time provide for permanent protection from development or unsustainable uses.
Through these easements, restrictions or rights to a property are conveyed to an eligible conservation entity, which could include a nonprofit land trust organization or a federal, state, or local government agency.
Conservation easements are strictly voluntary, and the restrictions of the easement are binding to all future owners. Generally, conservation easements restrict development and promote conservation of significant natural resources. This type of conservation tool allows landowners to retain their land and promotes good land stewardship, while providing continual benefits to the public at a minimal cost.
By Deborah Ward, DLNR spokesperson