Hawaii bill seeks to gut funding aimed at protecting environment from tourism

Photo of volcano craters in Hawaii

Since 1998, the Hawaiian Tourism Authority (HTA) – the state’s leading agency to manage tourism – has had its focus largely on marketing Hawaii to the world. But in 2019, when the state hit a record of over 10 million tourists, the milestone taxed residents, and caused significant environmental impacts on trails, beaches and sacred sites.

During the pandemic, the agency’s new leader, John De Fries, called the time a “huliau”, which in Hawaiian means a time of transition. It was one that De Fries, the first Native Hawaiian in the role, felt would be the perfect moment to reset Hawaii in a way that would marry modern technology and Indigenous wisdom to protect the future of the island and promote its state-adopted sustainability goals by 2030.

As the first state in the nation to declare a climate emergency, Hawaii’s residents have long felt an urgency for better tourism management strategies, with a majority believing that the island has been run for tourists at the expense of the locals, according to a recent HTA survey. Then, for the first time ever, HTA expanded beyond marketing and came up with the most comprehensive, sustainable and regenerative tourism plan, involving three new focuses that prioritized Native Hawaiian culture, community, and the environment. It cited an increase in $7.5m to support those efforts.

But just as they finally launched their recovery strategies – and tourism’s floodgates opened post economic collapse – the legislature, in a last-minute gut-and-replace move, introduced House Bill 862, stripping HTA’s funding and responsibilities in April. In one of the earlier amended versions of the bill, the legislature cut all of its financing for any Native Hawaiian organizations, cultural programming, and environmental nonprofits it had already been funding for years, causing immediate uproar in the community and over 200 public testimonials in opposition.

“You want to use us, you want to take all you can from our home, our resources, and our way of life and give us little to nothing in return,” testified Mapuana Da Silva, executive director of the Kailua-based cultural nonprofit Hika’alani.

This is an excerpt from an article by Libby Leonard, originally published by The Guardian.

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