It would be hard to imagine a nominee better qualified than Suzanne Case for confirmation as Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources chairperson.

The 59-year-old conservation lawyer, who has served as executive director of the Nature Conservancy in Hawaii for the past 14 years, was put forward for that role on Tuesday by Gov. David Ige. Roundly criticized for his first nominee for the position — developer lobbyist Carleton Ching, whose name was withdrawn when it became clear senators would reject the nomination — Ige clearly learned from that failure, returning with a nominee likely to earn support from both the environmental and development communities, for numerous reasons:

  • She oversees a staff of 76 working in the Nature Conservancy’s 16 Hawaii preserves encompassing 53,000 acres and working in 12 communities around the state to protect near-shore waters around Hawaii’s main islands.
  • Twelve years ago, Case oversaw the purchase of Kahuku Ranch on Hawaii Island and the transfer of that 117,000-acre site to Volcanoes National Park. That deal has been described as Hawaii’s largest-ever conservation land transaction. She’s also worked with public and private landowners on protection of Hawaii watersheds, and oversees a Nature Conservancy research station on the Palmyra Atoll.
  • She previously served 14 years as western regional counsel for the Nature Conservancy, implementing conservation transactions in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. Such a depth of experience around conservation and environmental issues both in Hawaii and elsewhere means she should bring a well-rounded, extensively informed perspective to her new role.
DLNR nominee Suzanne Case with Governor David Ige. 7 april 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Suzanne Case with Gov. David Ige at a Tuesday press conference announcing her nomination to lead the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Her suis a particular asset for the leader of a department with 10 divisions, 900 employees and responsibility for managing some 5.5 million total acres of near-shore ocean waters, conservation and coastal lands, coral reefs and inland streams.

Case also brings to the role deep and personal familiarity with the Aloha State: Born in Hilo, she grew up on Hawaii Island and graduated high school from Punahou. She subsequently earned a B.A. in History with honors from Stanford and a J.D. from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. Last year, she won a Hookele Award from the Hawaii Community Foundation in recognition of her “significant role [as a] non-profit leader in improving the quality of life for Hawaii’s people.”

It should be noted she is also the sister of former Hawaii Congressman Ed Case and a cousin of Steve Case, principal investor in the Maui Land & Pineapple Co., which owns 24,300 acres of residential, resort and commercial land on Maui, the 8,300-acre Puu Kukui Watershed Preserve and the Grove Farm on Kauai.

Though not given to strong emotions in his public pronouncements, Ige seemed quietly joyous in announcing Case’s nomination, pronouncing himself “excited to be able to find someone of her experience and leadership.”

He wasn’t the only one: Senate Water and Land Chair Laura Thielen, who will lead Case’s confirmation hearings next week, chatted privately with the “excellent nominee” on a walk from the governor’s office to the senator’s.

Her background “will make individuals more comfortable in the environmental community that she’ll make appropriate decisions based on holistic approaches.” — Sen. Laura Thielen

“She’s very thoughtful and measured. She’ll bring a lot of experience to this role,” Thielen said afterward, noting that she had worked with Case in her Nature Conservancy role when Thielen herself was chair of DLNR.

“To have someone of her background … will make individuals more comfortable in the environmental community that she’ll make appropriate decisions based on holistic approaches,” Thielen said.

Thielen also had kind words for Ige, a former Senate colleague whom she said she “always respected for being a man who could listen, even when he didn’t agree.”

She called Case’s nomination “a sign that he’s willing to move and that he’s taken to heart the critical comments” from the Ching nomination.

Senators on Monday extended the deadline for Ige to make a nomination that could be considered this session. While the timing is tight to complete that process before conference committee work begins April 20, Thielen sounded committed to getting it done.

We applaud both Thielen’s commitment and Ige’s choice. The former will ensure that strong new leadership is expeditiously brought to bear for DLNR, and the latter will go a long way toward restoring confidence in Ige as a leader who cares about Hawaii’s natural resources enough to hire the very best.

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