About the Authors

Wayne Tanaka

Wayne Chung Tanaka is director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii.

Jonetta Leinaʻala Kaina Peters

Jonetta Leinaʻala Kaina Peters is executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii and committee member of the National Wildlife Federation.

The losses from the Lahaina fires illustrate how government investment in land management and fire prevention would be well worth the cost.

For far too long, we have forgotten the basic truth that our lives and the aina are inextricably intertwined.

Contaminate our aquifer, and people get poisoned. Let invasive species overrun our watersheds, and the groundwater our keiki and moopuna will need to survive and thrive will disappear. Pave over our agricultural lands, destroy our soil, and our future generations may be unable to feed each other when the imports stop coming in.

Time-tested Kānaka ʻŌiwi perspectives and practices reflect our kuleana to carefully steward the aina that previous, current, and future generations have depended and will continue to depend upon. Unfortunately, in today’s society, we are clearly not upholding our end of this existential bargain.

To be clear, Hawaii has many unique and strong environmental protections and rights embodied in our constitution and statutes. However, year after year, our government invests a relative pittance in state funding for our environmental agencies, rendering them both unable to fulfill their respective missions, and ever more vulnerable to political interference and influence.

Concerns have been raised about the lack of support for land and water management, which some believe led to the widespread invasive grasses that fed the fires last August.

The Hoʻūlu Lahaina Unity Walk passes mauka of the burned remains of the historic West Maui town Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Lahaina. Uncle Archie Kalepa organized the Lele Aloha group to bring the diverse people of Lahaina together after the devastating Aug. 8 fire destroyed the historic West Maui town. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2024)
The Hoʻūlu Lahaina Unity Walk in West Maui on Jan. 20. The fires that happened in Lahaina cannot be allowed to happen again. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2024)

The tragic loss of human life in Lahaina may now be compounded by the spread of transgenerational toxins across the landscape and into the ocean, threatening both aina and human health for generations to come.

We cannot allow similar tragedies to happen, and the incalculable losses from the Lahaina conflagration illustrate how nearly any amount of government investment in land management and attendant fire prevention would be well worth the cost.

The benefits of re-remembering our connection to aina through the proper funding of environmental stewardship can go far beyond the prevention of wildfires, however.

Funds that can help implement our water code in a more timely manner will ensure that the public interest in our public trust water resources comes first — including in healthy and fire-resistant native ecosystems, affordable housing, as well as in traditional, regenerative agriculture that has fed, and can still feed, a million people or more.

Funding that can meaningfully take back our native watersheds from invasive species will enhance both stream and groundwater needed for fire prevention and suppression, and for the drinking water and recreational, cultural, economic, and other needs of future generations.

Break the pattern of neglect that has plagued our islands.

Greater investments in fisheries management and loko ia restoration, particularly when driven by cultural practitioners, can expand and perpetuate the presence and lifestyles of Kānaka ʻŌiwi communities dedicated to protecting aina, including from fire risks — while also restoring abundance to the nearshore waters that are a source of spiritual and physical sustenance.

We can no longer ignore the basic fact that the conditions of our existence has been and will continue to be shaped by our stewardship, or lack thereof, of these islands we call home. As a society we can no longer abdicate our fundamental duty to the aina and by extension, to our children and future generations.

As an individual, please consider accepting our generation’s kuleana to provide a hopeful and resilient future for our keiki. If you consider Hawaii your home, reach out to your legislator, and ask that they prioritize the ongoing investment of resources necessary to truly steward our aina, and break the pattern of neglect that has plagued our islands for far too long.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Authors

Wayne Tanaka

Wayne Chung Tanaka is director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii.

Jonetta Leinaʻala Kaina Peters

Jonetta Leinaʻala Kaina Peters is executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii and committee member of the National Wildlife Federation.

Latest Comments (0)

Thank you for this. Years ago, an exasperated DLNR division head told me that he and his colleagues had to spend literally half of every year begging or preparing to beg the legislature for the funds they need just to maintain the department's most elemental functions (monitoring resources, maintaining park bathrooms, etc.). Let's ask our legislators to guarantee DLNR ongoing funding for the already known nuts and bolts. Then citizens, legislators, and DLNR can all work together on funding actual improvement or expansion of that stewardship, and maybe it won't seem like a pipe dream.

kula · 1 week ago

From the Federal Hawaiian Homes Trust to the State Public Lands Trust, Hawaiians have literally been robbed by the maladministration of both which has resulted in settlements over the last decade. It's one thing to takeaway everything that was promised to Hawaiians under the rules of international law by their Ali'i and in treaties with other high contracting powers but it's another to promise to Hawaiians homes and a portion of so called "ceded lands" revenue and then consistently and continuously fail to do so. After a century of Hawaiian Homes administration and nearly half a century of the PLT administration as Congresses and the successors of usurpers remedy for their international crime of usurping Hawaiian sovereignty, Hawaiians can no longer afford to ignore the usurpation of their sovereignty & American occupation of their territory. It's about time we recognize our inherent political & territorial sovereignty as Hawaiians & act accordingly toward Congress. Congress needs to recognize our political status and we need to shed the mold of US citizenship. We cannot neglect our kuleana any longer for these injustices has consumed the world. Ua mau! No compromise, no retreat!

AHawaiianMan · 1 week ago

I think during the next high wind event if everyone nails a sprinkler (and turns it on) to the windward facing roof line it would prevent another Lahaina.

Chroniccommentor · 2 weeks ago

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