KAILUA – Completing a pledge to the Kailua community to protect Hamakua Marsh and Hamakua Hillside, Kaneohe Ranch has closed the sale of the 67.18-acre Hamakua Hillside to the State of Hawaii.
The Hamakua Hillside is a ridge that includes drainage gullies, which guide rainwater into the marsh and, from there, to the ocean, and is a visual backdrop to Kailua Town.
“In 2003, during a community-based planning process, Kaneohe Ranch pledged it would not develop the Hamakua Hillside for 15 years as part of the Harold Castle family’s efforts to protect Hamakua Marsh,” said Mitch D’Olier, Kaneohe Ranch Management Ltd. president and CEO. “We’ve been trying to preserve this hillside since 2004. We kept that pledge and now this environmental treasure will be protected in perpetuity.”
In 2009, it was announced that Kaneohe Ranch had agreed to sell the hillside property, also known as Pu‘u o Ehu, to the state and public and private partners. The State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), worked to secure State Legacy Land Conservation Program (Legacy Land) funding, and used these funds to leverage federal funds from the USFWS Recovery Land Acquisition Program (RLA). The state contributed $450,000 through Legacy Land, and the federal RLA Program contributed $720,000 for the acquisition and associated costs, for a total purchase price of $1.17 million.
“Hamakua is an important and unique place for wetland and watershed protection, endangered species restoration, open space preservation, and public education and recreation,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. “The Department is tasked with protection of these resources for the public, and appreciates the cooperation of Kaneohe Ranch and the assistance of federal and state funding programs in helping it fulfill this mission.”
“It took four years for the deal to be completed but now the Hamakua Hillside and Hamakua Marsh will forever remain in their natural state,” D’Olier said. “The sale represents the closing of a chapter in the protection of an important environmental place and habitat by a family, a foundation and a community.”
“The Hamakua Hillside, together with Hamakua Marsh, represent the largest remaining natural wetland in the state and are home to a variety of indigenous plants, birds and other wildlife,” said David Smith, DOFAW Oahu Branch Manager. “Under state management the area will be protected in perpetuity for its natural habitat, cultural significance, and public enjoyment of the landscape and a future recreational trails system.”
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognizes that success in conserving native species ultimately depends on working cooperatively with states, landowners and communities to foster voluntary stewardship efforts on private lands. The USFWS provided funding from their RLA
Grants program to acquire Hamakua, so it can remain as an open space and protected habitat for native species in perpetuity. The USFWS and its RLA program continue to be instrumental in acquiring and protecting key land parcels statewide. Hamakua Marsh, located along Hamakua Drive just mauka of Kailua Town, is a wetland habitat for all four endangered endemic Hawaiian water birds: the Koloa (Hawaiian duck), Hawaiian Moorhen, Hawaiian Coot and Hawaiian Stilt. The undeveloped Hamakua Hillside is a striking green backdrop that provides rainfall to the marsh, which is adjacent to the larger Kawainui Marsh. The hillside also provides one of the remaining scenic open spaces in urban Kailua Town.
Efforts to preserve Hamakua Hillside and Hamakua Marsh have moved in tandem for years. In 1994, the Castle family donated the 22.7-acre marsh to Ducks Unlimited, a private, tax-exempt environmental protection organization, with the understanding that the group would improve and restore the wetlands and then donate them to the State of Hawaii. In 1995, Ducks Unlimited completed restoration and dedicated the marsh to the state. In 1998, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation made a $150,000 grant to Ducks Unlimited to support its international education and information network’s efforts regarding Hawaiian wetlands.
“Along with the Castle family, the state and the Windward community, three individuals are my personal heroes in this story,” D’Olier said. “Randy Moore, the former Kaneohe Ranch president who invested time and resources to bring this unique partnership and accomplishment together; Andy Engilis Jr., who worked tirelessly for Ducks Unlimited to restore this habitat; and David Smith and his team from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, who accepted the marsh from Ducks Unlimited and did a wonderful job garnering funding and community support for its management. They got us to where we are right now.”
In December 2006, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation awarded $40,000 to LET (Learning Education Technology) for a student-designed website, www.kawainuimarsh.com, that increases the awareness of and support for the restoration of Kawainui Marsh.
Kaneohe Ranch manages the real estate owned by the family business entities of Harold K.L. Castle and Alice H. Castle and their nonprofit charitable foundation, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation. The portfolio consists of major landholdings in Kailua as well as other properties on Oahu and the U.S. mainland. The Kailua properties include commercial, retail, office, industrial and residential leasehold parcels.
The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife’s (DOFAW) mission is to responsibly manage and protect watersheds, native ecosystems, and cultural resources and provide outdoor recreation and sustainable forest products opportunities, while facilitating partnerships, community involvement and education. Malama i ka aina.
The Legacy Land Conservation Program (LLCP) protects rare and unique cultural, natural, agricultural, and recreational resources from destruction by funding the acquisition of fee title of conservation easements by nonprofits, counties, and state agencies. This Program partners with federal, county, and private conservation land acquisition programs to attract $8.74 million annual average in matching funds annually. The LLCP allows the State to take advantage of unique opportunities to acquire and protect undeveloped lands as well as the associated economic and health benefits (e.g., cultural and natural tourism, water supply, food supply, ecosystem services) for current and future generations. For additional information on the LLCP, please link to https://hawaii.gov/dlnr/dofaw/llcp.