UPDATE (2/1/2018): SB 2446 passed through all three committees yesterday, with a half dozen senators grilling Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority (HTA) employees, including president and CEO George Szigeti, on what they've been doing to mālama natural resources and the environment across the state. Star Advertiser article on this issue here.
ACTION ALERT: Contact Ways and Means Committee Chair Senator Donovan Dela Cruz NOW and urge him to hear SB 2446!
It's no secret that the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) suffers from chronic underfunding and understaffing issues. For years, the agency and legislature has arm wrestled over "we need more funding" and "first do what you're mandated to do" statements. Perhaps it's time to consider giving the DLNR the benefit of the doubt, toss more funds their way, and see what happens. After all, it has become clear that our natural resources are beginning to show deleterious effects, in huge part due to the nearly 10 million tourists we welcome to our islands each year.
But where will the funding come from, you ask? Well, there is currently a measure in the Senate (SB 2446) that seeks to transfer 15% of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority (HTA)'s budget to the DLNR. The HTA has done a marvelous job in drawing ever-increasing numbers of visitors to Hawaiʻi. Tourist visits consistently exceed even their own forecasts! With a annual budget approval of over $88 million last year, it is no wonder.
Meanwhile, the DLNR, mandated to manage and protect Hawai‘i’s finite natural resources and pristine beauty -- that which arguably draws the over 9 million tourists to the islands annually -- receives a mere 1.2% of the State budget. The outcome of this imbalance is a grossly underfunded and understaffed DLNR, which inevitably results in insufficient management of the very natural resources the HTA draws visitors here to experience.Trails are overcrowded and insufficiently maintained, invasive species are swiftly spreading whilst native species are dwindling in numbers, reefs are experiencing bleaching and die-off in part from the chemical offloading from hoards of sunscreen-laden tourists entering the nearshore waters.
Perhaps it is time to start leveling the scale and transfer a significant portion of HTA’s budget to DLNR; a choice that will not only have positive outcomes for the natural beauty of Hawai‘i, but also for the local people and visitors who enjoy it.
SB 2446 has a joint hearing before three committees on Wednesday January 31st.