Invest in Nature 

Cutting programs that conserve our natural resources is not the answer that Hawaiʻi or America needs. There is a better way—invest in nature.

By Ulalia Woodside

In Hawaiʻi and across the country, we all depend on healthy lands and waters for jobs, food, security and prosperity. In turn, these irreplaceable natural resources depend on all of us, including our elected officials.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s recent budget proposal to the Congress doesn’t meet that end of the bargain. It slashes critical conservation and environment programs through dramatic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of the Interior and more.

Conserving our nation’s natural resources is not a partisan issue, and it is not optional. Nature is essential to our well-being, and it offers solutions to some of the greatest economic and security challenges we face.

Cutting programs that conserve our natural resources is not the answer that Hawaiʻi or America needs. There is a better way.  We can instead prioritize investments in nature, and Hawaiʻi’s citizens can help by asking our elected representatives to do that.

Nature is a cost-effective investment that generates impressive returns for all of us. Healthy soils support agricultural production, food security and jobs. In Hawai‘i, healthy forests are the source of our fresh water—135 billion gallons per year and 47% of Oʻahu’s water supply come from the Koʻolau Mountains. Healthy reefs annually provide an estimated $364 million in value to the state, including recreation, tourism, fishing, and property value enhancement.

The Congress and the Legislature should maintain strong funding for conservation. Natural resource and environmental programs make up only about 1 percent of the federal budget, and a little higher in the State budget. Cutting these programs will contribute little to overall budget savings, but cost much to all of us who benefit from them.

Natural Infrastructure Solutions 

Elected and community leaders as well as average citizens agree that infrastructure is a priority for legislative action and funding. Beyond the obvious need to repair and upgrade crumbling roads, schools, airports and harbors, we can invest in proven “natural infrastructure” solutions.  These include restoring reefs, wetlands and fisheries that provide food, help to drive our visitor economy and shield coastal areas from storms; and caring for our forests, which are our primary source of fresh water and help prevent runoff and sedimentation into coastal areas.

Hawaiʻi’s Congressional delegation and State Legislature should be supported and commended for their work to protect the environment, including support for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s coastal and marine management programs at the national level, and making watershed protection and invasive species management a state priority.

As a part of the tax reform package they are likely to consider, Congress can enact tax credits or other fiscal incentives to stimulate cost-effective private investments in natural infrastructure that creates public benefits. 

We invite you to join us in using our “outside voice” to speak up for nature that not only brings benefits to all of us but also allows us to survive and thrive here in the middle of the Pacific, across the country and around the globe.

Ulalia Woodside is the executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. This op-ed originally appeared in the on-line newspaper Civil Beat.      


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