Dear Audubon Member,
For time immemorial, Native Hawaiians have divided their lands into units called ahupua'a. These lands traditionally ran from the top of a mountain down to the ocean, and encompassed most of the resources that ancient Hawaiians needed to survive. Each ahupua'a was managed communally and allowed people access to the beneficial plants, animals, and soils available at varying elevations. Native Hawaiian culture and religion have been deeply interwoven with the stewardship of these lands.
Today the Waimea Valley stands as one of the last intact ahupua'a left on the island of O'ahu. For more than 800 years its 1,875 acres were under the control of the kahuna nui, the high priests of the ruling chiefs of O'ahu, and the valley still holds areas considered sacred, some of which are kapu (“off-limits”). It also holds an astonishing display of biodiversity. A population of endangered Hawaiian moorhen, the 'alae 'ula, still call this valley home, as does the native short-eared owl, the pueo. The extensive botanical collections of Pacific region plants and island flora in the valley include specimens found nowhere else in the world.
But in 2000 the company owning the land put it on the market for private development, which could have precluded any future public access. The situation looked grim, but Audubon began working with residents concerned about the valley, and with a wide variety of public and private partners. Our goal was to save the Waimea Valley from development and make it permanently available to future generations of Native Hawaiians and the public.
After five years of court battles, public hearings, and negotiations, an unprecedented public-private partnership has now been formed to purchase the Waimea Valley and to provide access to the public through the Waimea Valley Audubon Center, which focuses on the protection, enhancement, and interpretation of the valley's unique Hawaiian history, culture, and biodiversity. The $14 million purchase price will be shared among the City and County of Honolulu, the state's Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Department of the Army, and Audubon. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs will own the land and lease it to Audubon to operate the Audubon Center. The city and the state will hold a conservation easement to ensure permanent protection. The Trust for Public Land was an invaluable partner in the negotiations.
Five years ago a settlement of this size and complexity seemed unimaginable. But that did not deter local activists and citizens across the state. At every opportunity, they spoke out for the valley, demanding action—and never gave up. Eventually their voices were heard, and their elected officials responded. There is no better testament to the power of individual action.
If you want to learn more about the Waimea Valley Audubon Center and what you can do to help, visit our website at www.audubon.org.
© 2006 National Audubon Society
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