Since the 2004 departure of the U.S. Navy and concurrent transfer of the Reserve’s access management from Federal to State hands, the KIRC has focused on healing centuries of environmental damage. Subjected to 200 years of uncontrolled goat and sheep grazing that ultimately brought the island to the brink of ecological collapse, followed by 50 years as a military weapons test range that caused unremitting environmental damage, the risks and difficulties associated with the recovery of Kaho‘olawe could not have been imagined.
Through innovative programs designed to overcome A) the inherent complications of working on a remote, isolated island with minimal infrastructure, and B) the residual risks associated with remnant munitions that are still present on land and in the water surrounding the island, the KIRC has seen great success in its work. Intensive out plantings and strategically placed erosion control projects have prompted the healing of a scarred landscape that has progressively allowed a native Hawaiian ecosystem to once again flourish. As these restored areas flourish, so too does the culture.
Through vital collaborations with partners in the field and volunteer groups like the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Americorps, Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana and a concentrated student involvement, we have replanted 600+ acres of the hardpan, reintroduced traditional cultural practices, protected and preserved significant cultural resources and iwi of our kūpuna and developed strategic plans to oversee the future vision for Kaho‘olawe as a culturally significant homeland for the people of Hawai‘i. The work to restore Kaho‘olawe has generated its own restorative powers to heal and energize the people that have touched its shores. These supporters have not only helped to heal the island, but also our society as a whole — sending a signal to participant communities that this work has real value.
A critical component of KIRC’s successes has been the Federal appropriation that established the Kaho‘olawe Rehabilitation Trust Fund. Through this Fund, the KIRC has been able to establish an integrated culture and natural resource management system unique within the State of Hawai‘i; develop and implement innovative restoration projects; set up an effective unexploded ordnance safety program that allows for meaningful access to the Reserve. Unless we, as voters, convince our legislature that Kaho‘olawe is an important resource to the people of Hawai‘i, funds to continue access and restoration will be exhausted. This legislative session is critical to the KIRC’s continuation of work on and for Kaho‘olawe. We will be championing a legislative package that will present short and long-term funding solutions, but we need your help to ensure its passage. Please visit http://kahoolawe.hawaii.gov/leg-updates.shtml to learn about how you can help get our proposed bills passed this session, maintaining access to the Reserve and continuing our kuleana as citizens.
Michael K. Nāho‘opi‘i
Executive Director, Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission