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Conservationists see gains, but still struggle to find long-term funding

Sophia McCullough

Even when you’re doing it right, the work of conservation never ends.

"Much like you can’t do one load of laundry and have clean clothes for the rest of your life or cook one meal and have food for the rest of your life, caring for our environment... it’s a lifelong and generations-long project," says Emma Anders, executive director of the Hawaiʻi Conservation Alliance.

Hawaiʻi’s Watershed Partnerships are volunteer organizations that work to maintain watersheds across the archipelago.
Department of Land and Natural Resources
Hawaiʻi’s Watershed Partnerships are volunteer organizations that work to maintain watersheds across the archipelago.

According to Anders, Hawaiʻi has made great strides in protecting its natural resources. For instance, 10 watershed partnership organizations now work to maintain over 2 million acres — nearly half of the state's total land area — across five islands.

But with so much ground to cover, funding is always a challenge. Anders says that on average, the State of Hawaiʻi invests less than 1% of its total budget on conservation.

"So that’s not a super-impressively high number," says Anders. "But there are also private grant funds and federal grant funds that come in."

But those grants change from year to year, making it hard to pin down exactly how much is being spent on conservation. That’s a topic that Anders is tackling in the Alliance’s next annual report.

"I would say that one of the conclusions of our report is that sustainable long-term funding mechanisms are a tool that we don’t have that we need," says Anders.

Anders says that reliable funding is key to conservationists being able to do their jobs. For example, the state Legislature earmarked $8 million in capital improvement funds for watershed protection in this year’s fiscal budget.

"It falls under the umbrella of sustainable Hawaiʻi 30 by 30, looking at fencing 30% of our priority watersheds by 2030."

Full interview with Emma Anders, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Conservation Alliance

Anders says the funding put aside by the Legislature will keep that project on track.

"So that's what I mean by sustainable funding mechanisms," she says, "where it allows the professionals who are out there doing the work to plan effectively, because it's ongoing work."

While the pros still need millions in funding, individual efforts also help. Try planting native species in your own backyard.

Anders says every small step makes a difference.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is the energy and climate change reporter. She is also the lead producer of HPR's "This Is Our Hawaiʻi" podcast. Contact her at sharrimanpote@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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