Hawaiian practitioners concerned watershed fence would cut off public access

Published: Apr. 27, 2017 at 7:17 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 28, 2017 at 9:53 AM HST
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WAIAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Native Hawaiian practitioners are vowing to try to stop what they've dubbed the 'Coca Cola fence.'

The Department of Land and Natural Resources is teaming up with the Coca-Cola Company and Koolau Mountains Watershed Partnership to construct a 6.6 mile-long protective fence in Waiawa.

The DLNR says the high-priority fence will keep invasive plants and animals from degrading the forest surrounding the watershed which supplies the majority of Oahu's drinking water. But Hawaiian cultural practitioners say a fence would violate their gathering rights and would not protect native species.

"The best way to stop invasive species and to take care of the land is to protect the cultural practitioners who've been caring for those lands for hundreds of generations and this fence would stop that cultural practice rather than stop it," said Laulani Teale, coordinator for Hoopae Pono Peace Project and gatherer of medicinal plants.

The DLNR says the fence will not impact access or native gathering rights.

"The fence will not restrict public access as it will have pass-throughs and step overs at trail crossings, and the access status of the area will not change. The fence will exclude pigs thus providing a greater level of protection for native plants," Dan Dennison, Senior Communications Manager for Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources said in an email.

The state hopes to the fence can be completed within two years, but that depends on addition funding.

The project has a $200,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Company, $100,000 in state funds and $100,000 from the Board of Water Supply. DLNR is seeking another $800,000 from the Legislature to complete the project.

"This funding from The Coca-Cola Company brings us that much closer to achieving the Sustainable Hawaii Initiative, which includes our commitment to protect 30% of Hawaii's priority watersheds by 2030," explained Governor David Ige in a release. We value and appreciate the Coca-Cola Company's contribution to this crucial effort toward helping protect water as the lifeblood of these islands.

The state says this partnership project will protect of 1,400 acres of priority watershed which is comprised of 1,000 acres of Kamehameha Schools land to the north and 400 acres of state land in the Ewa Forest Reserve to the south.

The DLNR assigned its highest conservation value to the Waiawa forest, which gives it the greatest level of protection and management.

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