When Ulalia Woodside took the helm as Hawai‘i executive director in 2016, she felt as if she had been preparing for the job her entire life. The daughter of a wildlife biologist and a Hawaiian cultural practitioner, she grew up in a family dedicated to protecting the environment. “Conservation is what we did,” she says. “It’s what I know and what I’ve made my life’s calling.”
Woodside served as director of natural and cultural resources at Kamehameha Schools, the state’s largest private landowner, prior to coming to TNC. She was also a member of the State Board of Land and Natural Resources, a past commissioner of the Hawai‘i Natural Area Reserve System, and a kumu hula, or teacher of hula, a tradition passed down from her mother at age three.
Following graduation from Honolulu’s Punahou School, Woodside worked as an intern and later a land agent with the Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources, where she gained a broad understanding of land tenure and ownership in Hawai‘i.
At the University of Hawai‘i, she earned undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Hawaiian Studies and completed graduate coursework in Urban and Regional Planning, then went to work in the private sector, doing everything from cultural and environmental assessments to masterplan developments. In 2002, she joined Kamehameha Schools Land Assets Division, and during her 14-year tenure there rose to regional director, responsible for a 200,000-acre portfolio and the natural and cultural resources programs.
As Hawai‘i executive director, Woodside oversees forest and marine conservation programs on five islands and a climate change research laboratory at Palmyra Atoll. She resides in the community of Waimanalo in windward O‘ahu and during her spare times enjoys serving on community organization boards, hula, hiking and traveling.
We Are Nature
The ecological and biological richness of Hawai‘i is unmatched, with 27 of 36 of the world’s ecological zones, from tundra to rainforest to beaches. Our plants, animals, fish and corals are found nowhere else on Earth. The natural world is essential to our way of life, our economy and our culture.
While the Hawaiian language does not have a single word for “nature,” there are hundreds of words and proverbs for our reciprocal relationship with it. The health of the place reflects the health of the people. Past TNC research shows how pre-Western contact Hawaiians had a much smaller footprint on nature compared to present day. Every day was Earth Day.
As we celebrate The Nature Conservancy’s 40th anniversary in Hawai‘i, we continue to work with partners—from businesses to government to private individuals and communities—to protect Hawai‘i’s lands, ocean and freshwater to address the double threat of biodiversity loss and the impacts of a changing climate. A public poll we commissioned last year showed that, even during the height of the pandemic, more than half of Hawai‘i residents felt climate change will cause them great or moderate harm, and more than 70% ranked the impacts of climate change—such as coral reefs dying off, reduced fresh water supplies, and flooding, drought and hurricanes—at nearly the same level of serious concern as COVID-19, drug abuse, cost of housing and jobs. The majority feels it is important to protect forests that provide fresh water, restore coral reefs, prevent invasive species spread and restore wetlands.
Nature can be quick to respond to change if the conditions are right. Through the pandemic, we’ve seen some places rebound with fewer people visiting. Scientists measured increased fish numbers and sizes at places like Hanauma Bay and Molokini, and honu (green sea turtles) nested on Bellows Beach for the first time in recent memory. But lasting results are going to take ongoing effort and investment.
We—and our natural areas—are experiencing the effects of climate change such as high temperatures, flooding, coral bleaching, and more frequent and severe storms. Hawai‘i is leading the way to address these impacts, from our early adoption of the Paris Agreement goal to aim for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, to one of the highest U.S. adoption rates of electronic vehicles and charging stations, to individual solar power installation, to our commitment to preserving and effectively managing 30% of Hawai‘i’s forests and coral reefs by 2030.
Fortunately, the natural world can help. Land, oceans, plants, soil and trees can remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester—or store it—without any technology or other human intervention. This underscores the need to continue protecting forests, wetlands and oceans, as TNC has been doing in Hawai‘i for the last 40 years.
TNC-led science has shown that natural climate solutions (NCS) can effectively sequester carbon. Here in Hawai‘i, with funding from the Sustainability Business Forum and others, we are testing and demonstrating a forest carbon offset project at our 8,000-acre Kona Hema Preserve. Simply put, trees absorb carbon. One credit offsets one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. For example, three one-way tickets from Honolulu to Los Angeles emit one ton of carbon per person. Buying one carbon credit would offset the carbon emissions from those three flights, pulling the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted from the flights out of the atmosphere. This is the first such forest carbon offset project in Hawai‘i, and is just one example of the many natural climate solutions that will help us set a resilient course for the future, in Hawai‘i and around the world.
As we all celebrate this 51st Earth Day, we can and must make bold choices and explore innovative solutions to restore our ʻāina—and ourselves.