A rough draft of several reports to be included in the Ka‘u Community Development plan, reviewed last week by the plan Steering Committee, offers insights into how district residents see themselves and what their vision is for the region’s future.
“The people of Ka‘u have an innate ecological awareness and respect for their diverse resources,” the draft natural and cultural resource management analysis said. “They understand the intrinsic value and interconnectedness of all natural and cultural systems and the practical reality that their survival depends on them. This translates into a strong commitment to protect and responsibly manage these resources.”
Interviews with community members — about 15 percent of all residents were surveyed, the report said — place high value on aina or natural resources, particularly access, natural resource protection, coastlines and natural beauty. Residents expressed a strong desire for more trails and hunting opportunities, as well as the desire to see more use of the agricultural land.
Right now, Ka‘u is home to about 15 percent of Hawaii Island’s pasture land. But about 70 percent of the land zoned agriculture isn’t being used for agricultural purposes, the report said. The analysis isn’t a final report, or even a final draft, for the CDP. Its purpose, it said, was to direct discussion as the steering committee continues the lengthy CDP creation process.
“Building on those values (of aina and natural resources) and priorities, the community’s values and vision statement is crystal clear: The Ka‘u CDP should honor Ka‘u’s unique rural lifestyle, its connection between people and place, and its distinctive Hawaiian cultural heritage,” the report’s introduction said. “It must plan for the future in ways that … protect and provide reasonable access to natural and recreational resources, including the mauka forests, the coastline, (and) open spaces.”
About 64 percent of the region is in the state Conservation District, with much of that land owned by the public. Other natural resources residents note include “pristine coastline and off-shore water and mauka forests, rich in biodiversity and critical habitat.” Other assets in the district include a tradition of recreational and cultural access and proposed trail system that could increase connections to and through “unique natural landscapes,” the report said.
The district is not without challenges, the report said. Feral animals and invasive flora and fauna threaten the mauka forests, shoreline and off-shore resources lack coordinated management, mauka and makai access is sometimes limited or unmanaged and unregulated human activities, such as off-road vehicles, unsanitary wastes and trash, threaten sensitive coastal and forest areas.
The report outlines a number of existing county, state and federal plans, laws and agreements that pertain to the district, and proposes other governmental and community partnerships to improve resource management. The report suggests looking at Ka‘u through the perspective of a traditional Hawaiian ahupuaa — mauka-to-makai district — and considering the region as three interconnected areas of upland forest, central farm lands and coastal areas, called wao, kula and kahakai in Hawaiian.
“Importantly, the ahupuaa system is as much a social and economic system as it is an ecological framework,” the report said. “This reflects Hawaiians’ integrated worldview and culture, which doesn’t draw stark distinctions between natural and cultural resources. By definition, ahupuaa include a wide range of natural, cultural, and recreational resources across a landscape.”
The problem today, the report said, is those resources typically have many different owners. One resource, the Ala Kahakai Trail, which runs along the district’s coastline, traverses parcels owned by half a dozen or more owners, some public, some private.
“Effective natural and cultural resource planning, therefore, requires high levels of collaboration and coordination among a wide range of agencies and organizations,” the report said. “Likewise, few know the resources like those who use and enjoy them. Local Hawaiian families, cultural practitioners, hunters, fisherman, hikers, farmers, and ranchers who know and frequent the forests, agriculture lands, and coastline are well-positioned to play a leadership role in managing them.”
The report also reviewed the history of agriculture, and agriculture’s role as the “economic mainstay” in the region today. Farmers in Ka‘u grow coffee, flowers, vegetables, fruit, honey and macadamia nuts, and ranchers raise cattle. The district has about 95,000 acres of cattle pasture.
Ka‘u farmers also face challenges, including an inadequate water supply, uncertain farm leases and the presence of vog, which can hinder plant growth.