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Washington, DC – Following the release of President Obama’s budget earlier this week, Senator Mazie K. Hirono praised the unprecedented high ranking of Hawaii’s Collaborative Landscape Proposal, “Island Forests at Risk,”  in the fiscal year 2016 budget.

“It is great news for Hawaii that the ‘Island Forests at Risk’ Collaborative Landscape Proposal is included in the President’s budget this year,” said Senator Hirono. “This proposal will provide crucial protection of native species and their habitats. Leading up to the budget release, I reached out to agency leaders to stress  the importance of protecting and managing lands on Hawaii and Maui Islands. After several years of hard work, this is the highest ranking the Departments of Interior and Agriculture have given Hawaii’s application, which increases the likelihood of federal support for this vital project.”

Landscape proposals, such as the “Island Forests at Risk”  proposal, are efforts through the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service to strategically conserve and protect endangered species’ habitats, culturally significant areas, and threatened lands across the country. Allocated funding allows the agencies to purchase and conserve lands across the country.

Including the parcels that make up the “Island Forests at Risk” proposal is an effort that has taken several years to achieve. As a House member, Senator Hirono worked with Senators Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka on earlier land acquisitions for Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

For the 2013, 2014 and 2015 budgets, landscape proposals were submitted that included land acquisitions for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge but these were unsuccessful in receiving a high ranking for permanent and current funding.

This year, Hawaii’s proposal again included land acquisitions for Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, both of which are ranked first in their respective agencies’ discretionary funding priority lists.

To stress the importance of protecting and managing these lands on Hawaii and Maui Islands, Senator Hirono met with National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and spoke with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. In addition to these federal agencies, Senator Hirono worked closely with the local community, including The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii and Trust for Public Land.

“The rich and unique ecosystems of tropical island forests play a critical role in protecting water quality and providing wildlife habitat as well as many other goods and services,” said Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

"Hawaii is an area of rich biodiversity like few other places on Earth, but it also contains more threatened and endangered species than anywhere else in the United States,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Preserving remaining native habitat and places like Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge is essential to conserving Hawaii’s wildlife. The “Island Forests at Risk” proposal exemplifies the significance we place on protecting the spectacular fauna and flora of our 50th state." 

Following the unprecedented high ranking of the “Island Forests at Risk” proposal in the President’s budget, Hawaii National Park, Wildlife Refuge and non-profit conservation leaders also praised the request for funding.

“We’d like to thank the entire Hawaii Congressional delegation, past and present, for their help with these proposed projects,” said Jody Kaulukukui, Director of Protection for The Nature Conservancy’s Hawaii Program.  “Each and every one of them has been working in the Congress and with the Interior Department over many years to share the critical importance of preserving Hawai?i’s natural and cultural heritage and the role these land acquisitions play in that effort.  In recent months, the Hawaii delegation has sent letters and Senator Mazie Hirono met in-person with each of the heads of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to ensure that those agencies made these projects a priority in the budget request sent to the Congress this week.”

“One third of all birds listed under the Endangered Species Act occur in Hawai?i. The Islands Forests at Risk funding will provide critical protection of native species and their habitats,” said Natalie B. Gates, Superintendent of  Haleakau National Park. “On Maui, the project will restore the last unprotected piece of sub-alpine habitat as habitat for Threatened and Endangered species, including the iconic Haleakal? silversword, the Hawaiian petrel, and the Hawaiian Hoary Bat.”

"These important parcels will protect volcanic features, numerous archaeological sites, pockets of endangered plant communities and over 2 miles of coastline and marine resources. Features representing the earliest arrivals of Polynesians and the prehistoric and historic lava flows and related geologic features, including major lava tube features, are of significant biological and cultural value and will be protected,” said Cindy Orlando, Superintendent of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.” It is these resource values that contribute to the outstanding universal values under which Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was designated a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. In addition, this acquisition will enhance wilderness and recreational values adjacent to the existing park boundary."

"The high ranking of the Islands at Risk proposal for funding under the Land and Water Conservation Fund collaborative conservation projects demonstrates the importance of partnership," said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Refuge and Monument Supervisor Barry Stieglitz. "By working together we can better protect the habitat vital for native fish and wildlife to survive increasing pressures and threats, including climate change."

The photos below depict some of the lands included in Hawaii’s “Island Forests at Risk” proposal:

A portion of the eight mile Great Crack

Photo Courtesy of Jody Kaulukukui

Aerial view of proposed Hakalau addition, Koa Forest Unit

Photo Courtesy of Rob Shallenberger

Hakalau forest understory

Photo Courtesy of  Rob Shallenberger