The Conservancy’s Hawai'i Executive Director
By Suzanne Case
Earth Day is a time when we should reflect on the value of nature to our everyday lives. While modern technology increasingly separates us from nature, it has not altered our fundamental reliance on it. Most of what we produce and consume on a daily basis is directly or indirectly a product of the natural world, and we should remember that not just on Earth Day, but every day.
But Earth Day is also about remembering our shared responsibility to care for the natural world, and to be its stewards. Natural resources are not free, nor are they inexhaustible. With the world’s population projected to pass nine billion this century, the competition for resources will only intensify. In such a world, those societies that manage their natural resources wisely will be the ones that survive and prosper.
Here in Hawaiʻi, building a sustainable future begins with safeguarding the natural resources on which our economy, lifestyle and health depend. Foremost among those resources is fresh water—without which there is no life.
Fresh water does not just come from a faucet or pipe, or even the well or stream it’s drawn from. The real source is vast expanses of healthy forested watersheds that capture rain and cloud moisture on leaves and mosses, hold it like a sponge, and allow it to seep slowly into the ground, delivering it efficiently to aquifers and streams for subsequent consumption in our daily lives.
Hawaii’s native forests are highly effective at both capturing and retaining water, but they are also among the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Currently, only 10 percent of our watershed forests are protected, a figure that does not bode well for the future. But there is good news. Over the past two decades, more than 75 public and private landowners, agencies and partners have joined forces to create a statewide network of partnerships that are working across ownership boundaries to protect our most important watershed forests.
These eleven watershed partnerships, along with five island invasive species crews, are among the most progressive of their kind in the country. Working on slim budgets they have accomplished remarkable results, building fences and removing destructive weeds and feral animals from thousands of acres of state and private forestlands.
To succeed long-term, however, they need secure, dedicated public funding.
This year, the State Legislature has an opportunity to deliver that funding by supporting the Governor’s “Rain Follows the Forest” initiative, which over the next decade would double the acres of protected watershed forest. His plan calls for $11 million a year to fence core forest areas, remove invasive species and plant native trees. If we are serious about our future water security, it is a plan we should all support.
Natural systems like forests not only supply us with fresh water; they control erosion, regulate climate and clean the air we breathe. Regrettably, many of us take these benefits for granted.
Hawaii’s natural resources are perhaps its greatest asset. We should all remember that this Earth Day. And remember too that when it comes to ensuring a sustainable future for our islands, safeguarding those natural resources may be the most important investment we can make.
Suzanne Case is the executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaiʻi.
Reprinted from the April 21 Sunday Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial section.