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July 2000, Vol. 26 No. 2
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Healing in Hanalei

UH's Stream Research Center helps a torn community decide a river's future

by Tanya Lewis

A UH faculty member and a federal program helped bring peace to a community embittered by 20 years of fighting about commercial use of the Hanalei River on Kaua'i. At the height of the controversy, boat operators on the river launched as many as 1,000 passengers daily. The burgeoning industry buoyed the economy and provided jobs, but many Native Hawaiians and other area residents felt the river was being despoiled and the once peaceful area overrun. The river issue afflicted Hanalei—neighbor opposed neighbor and community opposed government, lawsuits abounded, government seemed helpless, and healing seemed almost unimaginable.

Taro patch

Then Mike Kido, director of UH Manoa's Hawai'i Stream Research Center on Kaua'i, lead efforts to win Hanalei a prestigious American Heritage River (AHR) designation in 1998, and cooperation began to replace contention in the community.

"From the beginning we believed that UH could provide expertise, resources and information to help the local community deal with its challenges and plan for the future," Kido said. "I saw this as a way that the University could really help a local community."

Kido sent a nomination package for the Hanalei River to the American Heritage River System, a newly created Clinton initiative. Competition was stiff—126 rivers were nominated, with states spending tens of thousands of dollars to promote their applications. The Hanalei was one of only 14 rivers selected to be an American Heritage River.

Winning the AHR designation was a "Herculean effort on Mike's part," according to Kenneth Kaneshiro, director of the UH Center for Conservation Research and Training. "Mike's knowledge of the Hanalei River ecosystem, including its social, cultural and biological aspects, convinced the committee."

Under the AHR initiative, federal agencies facilitate community projects to restore and protect environmental, economic, cultural and historic values in river communities. Thirteen federal agencies partner with the Hanalei River project. The project is managed by the community and focused on resource protection, historical and cultural preservation and economic diversification.

"It was inconceivable that the different [Hanalei community] factions would sit at the same table without yelling at each other until the AHR designation," Kaneshiro said. "Primarily due to Mike's leadership, UH assisted the community to come together and 'talk story' about the common values the river brings to the community."

Kido lead the community through dissension and distrust, explaining the benefits of an AHR designation. Then he organized everyone around the AHR initiative and developed a community empowerment process. He also negotiated and administered funds from the U.S. Forest Service, the river's federal sponsor, to staff and maintain an AHR office. The Hanalei Heritage River Office administers affairs for the Hanalei Community Hui.

The hui assumed control of the river program and is working on a five-year management plan.

"While we're not directly managing the project anymore, we will continue to write grants and look for opportunities to support the community's plan," Kido said. "The University will and should play an important role in helping a community manage its resources in sustainable ways and realize its community vision."

A signed memorandum of understanding formalized the relationship between the hui, UH and federal partners. The partnership was celebrated in March with an emotional ceremony.

Kido believes involvement in community projects is a University responsibility. "What we study and teach at UH has to have relevance and importance to the lives of people in our society. It's in our local communities like Hanalei where Hawai'i really resides."

Hawai'i Stream Research Center activities

Development of Hawai'i Stream Bioassessment Protocol —field-tested to assess stream biotic integrity and habitat quality and provide data to guide resource management decisions.

Establishment of an ecological stream research station with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Limahuli Garden on Kaua'i for the state's first long-term study of a Hawaiian stream ecosystem.

Creation of a geographical information system application customized to provide user-friendly, Internet-based, map-formatted access to the enormous quantity of existing stream data.

Bioassessment of Lumaha'i Stream under a federal grant with the cooperation of landowner Kamehameha Schools and the management agency (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).