The department was created shortly after Hawaii became a state to manage the state’s public lands, water and coastal areas. Key areas of focus are soil conservation, forest reserves, aquatic life, wildlife, state parks and historic sites, and all activities that occur in those areas. The department’s annual operating budget of approximately $110 million is funded by a combination of the state’s general fund and special funds, as well as federal funds. In its current two-year budget, the department set aside about $120 million for capital improvements, which would be funded by bonds.
Act 55, signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombiein May 2011, created the Public Land Development Corporation, which acts as a development arm of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The corporation facilitates private development of state lands. Revenues generated from the public-private partnerships are expected aid DLNR budget woes.
In March 2010, the National Park Service issued a report that said the department’s Historic Preservation Division was mismanaged and jeopardizing the division’s federal funding.
The department’s mission is to “Enhance, protect, conserve and manage Hawaii’s unique and limited natural, cultural and historic resources held in public trust for current and future generations of visitors and the people of Hawaii nei in partnership with others from the public and private sectors.” Its operations are governed by Title 13 of the Hawaii Administrative Rules.
Both the Department of Land and Natural Resources and Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources are given their authority by Chapter 11, Section 2 of the Hawaii State Constitution, as well as Section 171-3 and Section 26-15 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.
The department includes the following divisions:
- Division of Aquatic Resources, which “manages the state’s aquatic resources and ecosystems through programs in commercial fisheries and resource enhancement; aquatic resources protection, habitat enhancement, and education; and recreational fisheries.”
- Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, which “administers programs, manages facilities and issues permits to make the nearshore waters safe for everyone.”
- Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement, which “enforces all State laws and rules involving State lands, State Parks, historical sites, forest reserves, aquatic life and wildlife areas, coastal zones, Conservation districts, State shores, as well as county ordinances involving county parks.”
- Engineering Division, which “provides technical support in protecting and managing Hawaii’s natural resources.”
- Bureau of Conveyances, which “examines, records, indexes, and microfilms over 344,000 Regular System and Land Court documents and maps annually; issues Land Court Certificates of Title; certifies copies of matters of record; and researches UCC requests.”
- Division of Forestry and Wildlife, which is “responsible for the management of State-owned forests, natural areas, public hunting areas, and plant and wildlife sanctuaries.”
- Historic Preservation Division, which “works to preserve and sustain reminders of earlier times which link the past to the present.”
- Land Division, which is “responsible for the management of State-owned lands in ways that will promote the well-being of Hawaii’s people and insure that these lands are used in accordance with the goals, policies and plans of the state.”
- Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, which is “responsible for overseeing approximately 2 million acres of private and public lands that lie within the State Land Use Conservation District. In addition, to privately and publicly zoned Conservation District lands, OCCL is responsible for overseeing beach and marine lands out to the seaward extend of the state’s jurisdiction.”
- Division of State Parks, which “manages and administers 52 state parks encompassing nearly 25,000 acres on the five major islands.”
A number of boards and commissions also fall under the department. In addition to overseeing the department, the DLNR chief serves as chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources and as a member of the Commission on Water Resource Management.
The department boards include:
- The seven-member volunteer Board of Land and Natural Resources, which convenes twice each month to “review and take action on department submittals, including land leases and Conservation District Use Applications.” Board members hail from all four counties and are appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Hawaii Senate and have four-year terms.
- The seven-member volunteer Commission on Water Resource Management, which “has jurisdiction over land-based surface water and ground water resources, but not coastal waters. The protection and management of these water resources is carried out through resource assessments, planning, and regulation.”
- The various island burial councils, which are administered by the Historic Preservation Division. The volunteer burial councils decide if Hawaiian burials are to be preserved in place or disinterred and re-interred, and give the division recommendations on proposed burial treatment plans put forth by developers and landowners.
The department is responsible for nearly 2 million acres of conservation land, placing it in a prominent position in the public eye. In many ways, the department serves as a literal and figurative gatekeeper to some of Hawaii’s most treasured natural resources, both in state parks and on private property. Native Hawaiians’ connection to the land is a basic part of their identity and as a result, decisions regarding historical and naturally beautiful places make the Department of Land and Natural Resources the state’s lead agency in regard to land use issues.