HONOLULU (KHON2) — Some 100,000 acres of land are in dispute between two state agencies. Those in the ranching industry say the Department of Land and Natural Resources is not transferring the land fast enough. That’s going against the state’s goal of increasing food production.
Much of the land in question is on the Big Island. Some of it already being leased by ranchers through the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Ranchers point out that a law passed 19 years ago calls for lands suitable for agriculture be transferred from DLNR to the Department of Agriculture. So far about 100,000 acres have not been transferred.
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“That means these leaseholders have been waiting that long, thinking that their lands will be transferred and still not having the confidence that their lease is going to stay in agriculture, because they’re still under DLNR,” said Nicole Galase, managing director of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council.
Galase said the agriculture department is more aware of what ranchers and farmers need whereas DLNR has different goals and missions.
“They are important goals, but it doesn’t include food production,” she said. “Under Department Of Agriculture, food production is a strong part of their mission.”
DLNR said some of the land isn’t appropriate for agriculture.
“They might be landlocked,” said Emma Yuen, DLNR Natural Resource Specialist. “They might be on a cliff. They might have no water. There are all these things that make various parcels more or less appropriate under each agency.”
Yuen says about 77,000 acres of the land in question actually have multiple uses. So it’s best for DLNR to continue to manage them.
“They have forests, endangered species, public hunting, public access trails that we want to also continue to manage and make sure available,” said Yuen.
She adds that a working group assembled by lawmakers recommended that DLNR hold on to the 77,000 acres. But the agriculture department said there should be a way for both departments to manage those lands together.
“We just stick to the position that if the underlying or the major activity that’s occurring on the land is agriculture, that it would be best served by being managed by the experts of that industry,” said Morris Atta, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture.
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Both agencies say it will likely come down to state lawmakers on whether the lands will be transferred.