Legacy Land Conservation Fund

As Hawaii residents are well aware, many of the State's natural, cultural and agricultural resources are lost when certain lands are sold and developed.  A "Land Conservation Fund" was established by the State of Hawaii in 1973 for the purpose of funding the protection of such lands.  Unfortunately, the fund sat dormant until 2005 when the Hawaii State Legislature passed the Legacy Lands Act, and Governor Linda Lingle signed it into law.  The Legacy Land Act legislation had two notable elements that enabled the State to  thoughtfully and systematically fund land conservation projects in Hawaii:     

(i) An Expert Commission

The Legacy Land Act created a nine-member commission, the Legacy Land Conservation Commission ("LLCC"), composed of natural, cultural and agricultural resource experts representing each county in the State of Hawaii.  The LLCC reviews every project submitted for funding and advises the State's Board of Land and Natural Resources on annual project selections.  The projects are then subject to additional levels of review before they finally make their way to the Governor for the final decision on project funding.

(ii)  10% of Conveyance Taxes

Perhaps most importantly, the Legacy Land Act created a dedicated funding source for the newly named Legacy Land Conservation Fund ("LLCF") by allocating 10% of all State conveyance taxes (taxes imposed on the transfer of all commercial and residential real estate) to land conservation projects in Hawaii.  The law explicitly states that the LLCF be used "for the acquisition of interests of rights in land having value as a resource to the State for the preservation of agricultural lands, among other conservation purposes".  Funds can be used to acquire land at fair market value, or for conservation easements, including but not limited to projects with the following characteristics: (i) watershed protection, (ii) parks, (iii) coastal areas, (iv) habitat protection, (v) agricultural sites, (vi) culturally significant sites, and (vii) open space.  The LLCF awards grants to counties, local organizations and other agencies.  Grant recipients are required to provide matching funds of at least 25% of total project costs.

Sunset Ranch was blessed to have been recommended and approved for funding by the LLCF in 2009.  The project was also fortunate to recieve federal and county funding.  Federal funding came from the Natural Resource Conservation Service ("NRCS"), a division of the United States Department of Agricultural ("USDA"); City and County of Honolulu funding came from the Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund ("CWNLF")(we will be blogging about the CWNLF in the near future).  The USDA contributed 50% to the project; the LLCF, 25%; and the CWNLF, 25%.  The importance of financial leverage to land conservation projects cannot be overstated.  In the case of Sunset Ranch, the LLCF committed 25% of what otherwise would've been required without the financial leverage provided by the federal and county programs.

Private conservation easements reduce land conservation project costs to state and local agencies even further.  How?  With a private conservation easement, the agency is no longer buying a fee simple interest in the fair market value of the land.  Instead, the agency is purchasing a conservation easement that legally enforces the landowner to never subdivide.  Said differenlty, the development rights of the property are stripped away in exchange for payment.  Generally speaking, the value of a conservation easement (development rights) is typically between 40% to 50% of the value of a fee simple interest in the land.  The obvious result here is that the agency is able to accomplish the objective of land conservation at a fraction of the price.   Further, the responsiblilties of ongoing maintenance, management and liability remain with the land owner, and the property remains a revenue source to the county as the landowner is still required to pay property taxes. 

Factoring the benefits of financial leverage together with the structure of a private conservation easement, the LLCF committed approximately 10% of what it otherwise would've had to commit to protect Sunset Ranch.  This calculation does not consider the ongoing costs required to manage and maintain the property.  This is why it is so important for Hawaii residents to be aware of these programs.  Especially during these times when our state and county governments have limited financial resources.

Sunset Ranch remains focused on its mission of helping advance land conservation in Hawaii through: (i) events, (ii) farming, (iii) a nursery, and (iv) horsemanship.  Among other things, we believe these efforts will allow us to establish Sunset Ranch as a platform to effectively educate  landowners, the local community and visitors on the importance of federal, state and county land conservation programs.  Please contact us with any questions regarding the Legacy Land Conservation Fund.  You can also learn more about the application and award selection process for the LLCF here

LLCF Project Awards: 2010 

In 2010, the Legacy Land Conservation Fund conveyed over $3 million for land conservation projects in Hawaii.  These funds were matched with approximately $9.5 million in federal, county and private funds, and used to acquire and protect approximately 752 acres of threatened or unique natural, cultural, recreational, and agricultural resources.  The following is a brief summary of the projects protected in 2010, as communicated by the LLCC:

1. County of Hawaii and the Trust for Public Land: $945,000 for the acquisition of approximately 10.61 acres on the Island of Hawaii, coastline lot within Paoo ahupuaa, North Kohala District, to protect over 27 cultural sites from development and maintain the natural landscape and scenic views of the Kohala coastline.

2. Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry & Wildlife: $500,000 for the acquisition of a conservation easement over approximately 614 acres on the Island of Molokai to protect critical watershed and prevent erosion damage to near-shore coral reef ecosystems and historic Hawaiian fishponds.

3. Kauai Public Land Trust and the County of Kauai: $800,000 for the acquisition of approximately 0.74 acre on the Island of Kauai, on Hanalei Bay, to be held by the County of Kauai, to enhance and protect the heavily used Black Pot Beach Park area for Hawaii’s residents and visitors.

4. Kona Historical Society: $255,592 for the acquisition of approximately 2.11 acres on the Island of Hawaii, South Kona, to provide a scenic buffer for the historic H.N. Greenwell Store and additional space for preservation of the farming and ranching heritage of Kona.

5. The Trust for Public Land and Oahu Land Trust: $500,000 for the acquisition of a conservation easement over approximately 107.73 acres on the Island of Oahu, ahupua‘a of Kaalaea, in the Koolaupoko District, to be held by the Oahu Land Trust, to protect agricultural production and maintain a portion of the rural character of windward Oahu.

6. Malu Aina Center for Non-Violent Education and Action and the Hawaii Island Land Trust (HILT): $231,788 for the acquisition of approximately 11.14 acres on the Island of Hawaii, Puna District; with a conservation easement to be held by HILT, to maintain agricultural production on lands with kipuka deep soil and abundant rainfall.

7. HILT: $35,000 for the acquisition of conservation easements over approximately 6 acres on the Island of Hawaii, Puna District; to preserve an intact native ohia forest canopy that allows native birds, insects and plants to travel and propagate.

LLCF Project Awards:  2009

In 2009, the Legacy Land Conservation Fund conveyed over $3 million for land conservation projects in Hawaii.  The State funds leveraged approximately $6.6 million in matching federal funds and $1.5 million in private and county funds towards the protection of land.  The following is a brief summary of the projects funded in 2009 as communicated by the LLCC:

1. State of Hawaii: $982,956.50 for the acquisition of approximately 3,582 acres in Honouliuli Preserve, Waianae Mountain Range, Island of Oahu, for its natural habitat, watershed, and recreational values;

2. State of Hawaii: $450,000 for the acquisition of approximately 65.56 acres in Hamakua, Kailua, Island of Oahu, for its natural habitat, watershed, scenic, and open space values;

3. State of Hawaii: $7,000 for the acquisition of approximately 7 acres in North Kohala, Island of Hawaii, for its cultural, historic, and scenic values;

4. State of Hawaii: $1,250,000 for the acquisition of approximately 17.05 acres in Lapakahi, Kohala, Island of Hawaii, for its coastal, cultural, and natural values; and

5. Maui Coastal Land Trust: $609,425 for the acquisition of an agricultural conservation easement over approximately 27.44 acres, in Pupukea, North Shore, Island of Oahu, to be held by the North Shore Community Land Trust, for its agricultural and open space values.

Kaunala Loop Trail

Kaunala Loop Trail is a hidden gem in the mauka regions of Pupukea-Paumalu on the North Shore of Oahu.  If you enjoy a fun, challenging hike, Kaunala Loop Trail is for you.  The trail head starts near the very end of Pupukea Road, between Sunset Ranch and Camp Pupukea (Boy Scouts).  An interesting fact on Sunset Ranch?  Kaunala and other trails in this region are a big reason why the State of Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu were so excited about protecting Sunset Ranch from development.  Why?  Sunset Ranch provides a buffer to this region, which includes over 30 miles of trails throughout Waimea Valley and Pupukea Paumalu. 

Kaunala Loop Trail is a trail for every outdoor adventurer.  It is about a five mile loop that has a little bit of everything, including:  panaramic views of the north and northwest side of Oahu, spectacular mountain and valley views, stream crossings, paper tree forests and various ridge climbs.  The one recommendation we have if you're going to set out on this adventure is to start your hike in the morning, or in the early afternoon, latest.  Why?  On occassion hikers start a bit late and they underestimate the time it takes to complete the loop.  As a result, night falls and sometimes they require assistance getting back!

One of our many goals at Sunset Ranch is to establish our Nursery as a staging area to work with Hi'ipaka (owner and operator of Waimea Valley) and the State of Hawaii to help maintain invasive species and reintroduce native Hawaiian species in these mauka regions of Oahu.  This includes areas in and around Kaunala Loop Trail.  We want to create a fun, educational experience for school children, local residents and all visitors to Sunset Ranch.  We hope to also develop a short film documentary that shares the history of the area, including the cultural significance of the region. 

We hope you get out and explore the Kaunala Loop Trail!  As you start your hike, you'll see Sunset Ranch on your right.  Where the property ends is where our Nursery will be built.  Eventually it will be a great place for visitors to stop in, get educated and continue on their adventure to Kaunala Loop Trail.  We can't wait!  If you want more information on Kaunala Loop Trail, you can find it here.  A hui hou!

Botanical Gardens at Sunset Ranch

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Sunset Ranch has dedicated a large portion of the property to botanical gardens.  We have a wide variety of native and non-native flora and fauna all around the property.  Sunset Ranch is also continuing to work on plans for an interactive nursery on-site.  The nursery will be located on the southeast portion of the property.  The primary objectives of the nursery at Sunset Ranch are to:  (i) establish a satellite nursery for native Hawaiian flora and fauna in partnership with Hi'ipaka; (ii) educate the local community and other visitors on native versus non-native plants, and (iii) establish a staging area at Sunset Ranch to conduct local hikes into the mauka regions of the valley in an effort to maintain invasive species and to reintroduce native species, where appropriate and able.

(i) satellite nursery

Hi'ipaka is the owner and operator of Waimea Valley.  Waimea Valley  is an 1875 acre sacred Hawaiian preserve that is located just south of Sunset Ranch and home to over 5000 tropical and subtropical plants.  Sunset Ranch and Hi’ipaka see two primary reasons for a strategic partnership:  (i) a satellite nursery at Sunset Ranch provides a facility away from the threat of landslides in the valley, and (ii) the higher elevation at Sunset Ranch provides for a more productive nursery for certain native Hawaiian species.  Sunset Ranch is excited about this partnership, and committed to the benefits this site will bring to Waimea Valley and the community.

(ii) education

Sunset Ranch is excited about using the nursery as a tool to educate the community on native versus non-native plants, and the importance of land conservation and self-sustainability in Hawaii.  The design of the nursery will be interactive in nature and allow children, students, families and visitors to see native plants up close.  Visitors will also be able to learn about invasive species and the history of the surrounding area.

(iii) staging area

Sunset Ranch is also interested in establishing the nursery as a staging area to lead community efforts to maintain invasive species and reintroduce native species, where appropriate and able.  Our vision is for visitors to educate themselves on native versus non-native plants, and then take their newly acquired knowledge into the valley.  We also hope to work with schools and organizations such as the Boy Scouts to organize these efforts into meaningful and effective programs.

We truly believe that the Nursery at Sunset Ranch can be a meaningful tool to advance the causes of land conservation and self-sustainability on the North Shore of Oahu. If you’re interested in our Nursery efforts at Sunset Ranch, or you have any thoughts or feedback, please feel free to contact us through our Contact tab, or call us at (808) 638-8333.  Mahalo!

North Shore Community Land Trust

As many are now aware, the North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT) played a critical role in the protection of Sunset Ranch and now manages the stewardship fund that will insure its permanent protection.  That said, it is also important to recognize the significance of the NSCLT's broader role regarding land conservation on Oahu's North Shore.  For example, did you know that the NSCLT played a significant role in the permanent protection of Pupukea-Paumalu (~1129 acres north of Sunset Ranch)?  This was a parcel that was otherwise subject to significant commercial and residential development that would have negatively impacted the North Shore in so many different ways.  And how about Waimea Valley?  Did you know that the NSCLT was instrumental in the protection of Waimea Valley (~1875 acres south of Sunset Ranch)?  This culturally significant parcel was also threatened by development.  Thanks to the NSCLT and other local organizations, all of this important land on the North Shore has been permanently protected.  The bottom line?  NSCLT is an incredible organization comprised of exceptional individuals who have nothing but the very best interests of the North Shore community in mind.  If you're interested in land conservation on the North Shore of Oahu, the NSCLT is an organization that you need to know about.  Here is their stated mission:

The mission of the North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT) is to protect, steward, and enhance the natural landscapes, cultural heritage, and rural character of ahupua‘a from Kahuku Point to Ka‘ena.

So how can you learn more about land conservation in Hawaii? And how can you get involved?

1.  The NSCLT holds 'talk story' events to get the word out and explain not only their efforts, but various land conservation programs available to the community and to land owners.  We highly recommend that you get in touch with the NSCLT and inquire about their next ' talk story' event.  Not only will it be informative, it will get you excited about land conservation in Hawaii.

2.  The NSCLT is currently developing a thoughtful strategy to prioritize land conservation efforts on the North Shore through their "Greenprinting Project".  Given the amount of land that is currently for sale on the North Shore (through Dole, Continental Pacific and others), it is important to understand the significance of this project.  The NSCLT has a new fundraising campaign called "7 FOR 7" that will assist with raising money for this effort.  Check out the "7 FOR 7" video on our drop down menu on the Event page.

3.  For additional information, or if you want to get actively involved with land conservation on the North Shore of Oahu, contact Sunset Ranch at (808)638-8333 or NSCLT at (808)638-0338.  We also suggest you visit the NSCLT's web-site at www.northshoreland.org to learn more.

So please get involved with the important cause that is land conservation in Hawaii.  While monetary donations to the NSCLT are great (you can now easily donate via Crowdrise here); we also encourage you to donate your time.  There are many ways to get involved, and the time to get involved is now.  Mahalo!

Closing Celebration / Blessing

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Please join us on Sunday, November 21st from 2 pm to 6 pm to celebrate the perpetual protection of Sunset Ranch, and one of the first private conservation easements in Hawaii.  This event is an Open House!  There will be pupus, entertainment and tours around the property.  It will be a very special day.  We hope to see you there!

 I also wanted to share a few critical points of mention with regard to the benefits that come along with private conservation easements.

1.  The objective of land conservation is achieved at a fraction of the cost.  How so?  The purchasers of the conservation easement (or development rights) are not paying fair market value for the property because they are not taking ownership.  Instead, the purchasers are buying the development rights of the land.  The value of the development rights is determined by valuing the property WITH the development rights and WITHOUT the development rights.  The delta, or the difference between these two values, is what is determined as the value of the developments rights.  So when you understand the difference in values being considered (WITH developments versus WITHOUT development rights), you can quickly understand how these federally based conservation programs allow for state and local agencies to achieve their goals of land conservation at a fraction of the cost;

2.  Property maintenance and liability remains the responsibility of the land owner.  Since the purchasers involved with the transaction are buying the developments rights and not the property, all financial and legal responsibility remains with the land owner.  This is an especially critical point for agencies that cannot afford to carry the added financial burden that would otherwise come along with ownership.  Of course the absence of any liability exposure associated with the property is also a huge benefit to agencies that are committing funds to these projects; and

3.  The property remains a revenue source for the City & County.  Again, the land owner continues to hold title to the underlying land and therefore continues to be reponsible for property taxes assessed by the City & County.  Alternatively, under a public conservation easement, oftentimes the State or City & County takes ownership of the land and the property tax revenue source is completely lost.  This is a significant amount of revenue!  When you consider this pont along with the two previous points, the value of private conservation easements becomes quite clear.

Our mission at Sunset Ranch is to establish the property as a platform to help advance land conservation and self-sustainability in Hawaii.  In order to effectively do this, we need to start by helping educate the community on the programs that exist and are available to landowners.  With regard to land conservation, when you consider the amount of land that is currently for sale by Dole and others on the North Shore or Oahu, it is very clear that the time is now to help advance the cause.

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