The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has its sights set on establishing 300 acres of pristine forestland near Hawaii Kai as the Pia Natural Reserve Area.
The parcel was offered as a donation by interests that include retired car dealer James Pflueger and is home to a variety of rare plants and animals.
“Pia is a biodiversity hotspot and valuable as a location to study critically endangered species, as well as monitor efforts at species conservation,” the DLNR wrote in its proposal.
A portion of the land that would be in the Pia Natural Reserve Area.
The reserve would include 300 acres of upper Pia Valley, mauka of the Hawaii Loa and Niu Valley subdivisions and extending to the crest of the Koolau Mountains. The state says there are records of 29 rare species found or historically known in the area, and that the land falls within federally designated critical habitat for 17 species.
The Land Board was initially scheduled on Friday to consider a request from DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife to conduct a public hearing on adding the acreage to the Natural Area Reserves System.
However, DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward wrote in an email that the agenda item “is being withdrawn for now, as we are still in negotiations on the actual land donation.”
Pflueger, who recently finished serving a seven-month jail sentence for his role in the deadly 2006 Ka Loko dam disaster on Kauai, offered to donate the parcel on behalf of private landowner Niu Conservation Group LLC, of which he is a member, to be “used for conservation purposes in perpetuity,” according to the DLNR proposal.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Pflueger declined to comment. He referred the inquiry to Ricky Cassiday, a trustee for the Mary Lucas Estate.
Cassiday said that while he, Pflueger and other family members owned the land for many years, Niu Conservation Group was recently taken over by a company in the Philippines. Regardless of the change in ownership, Cassiday said all parties, Pflueger included, support setting it aside for conservation.
“It’s kind of the land that’s lost in time,” Cassiday said, referring to its pristine state.
For 15 years, the state has been surveying the area and collecting genetic material from rare species found there. The Plant Extinction Prevention Program has carried out conservation work for 14 species in Pia over the last decade. Additionally, the Snail Extinction Prevention Program has been working with two endangered snail species found exclusively in Pia, and surveying for others historically found there.
Endangered Elepaio birds can be found in the area.
In fact, the last known wild Achantinella bulmoides, a species of snail, is known from the parcel. The area is also home to the endangered Elepaio bird and a variety of rare plants.
“This area has already experienced native species extinctions, and contains many species that are in danger of extinction,” the proposal reads.
Management priorities, the state says, include installing fencing to keep out feral pigs, removal of invasive plant species and removing or reducing the amount of predators, including rats and a cannibal snail species.
Ward said that once the land donation is confirmed, the Natural Area Reserves managers will come back to the board for approval to move forward with a public hearing on final designation. At that time, DLNR would be able to comment further, she said.
A public hearing is required to designate state lands. The Division of Forestry and Wildlife said in its proposal that it is feasible for the state to accept the donation and manage the land as a reserve.
Last year, Pflueger, a resident of Honolulu, pleaded no contest to first-degree reckless endangerment, a felony, for his role in the 2006 dam break on Kauai. He was charged with tampering with the dam’s spillway on his 33-acre Kilauea property. The disaster sent a wall of water downhill, killing seven people.
Pflueger served seven months, mostly on home detention because of health issues, and was released in May.
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