The Hawai‘i Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (Hawai‘i-GLCI) introduced itself officially to the islands’ agricultural community on Friday, December 9, at the Maui Roping Club at Oskie Rice on Maui. From around the State and despite stormy weather, about 50 conservation and agricultural leaders, among them Senator Russell S. Kokubun, the future Chair of the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture, gathered to learn about this partnership of graziers* from Hawai‘i’s beef, dairy, sheep and goat industries committed to furthering the grazing industry’s contribution to natural resource and ecosystem conservation.
Reconfirming that Hawai‘i’s multifaceted culture, green pasturelands, productive soils, and life-enhancing watersheds define island assets that must be protected, the group networked to explore the premise of Hawai‘i-GLCI, which centers around the unique environmental benefits that flow from well-managed grazing lands.
“Over my years of working with ranchers, I have been stunned to learn how much expertise there is,” said keynote speaker Gretchen Daily, Director of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University and Chair of the Natural Capital Project (NCP), ** prime partner to Hawai‘i-GLCI. “It’s humbling to see all of the effort and knowledge that goes into managing a first-rate operation.” Daily explained to the audience how grazing lands contribute to the well-being of communities in ways that we don’t tend to think about, beyond commercial products such as meat, wool, milk or other dairy products. Well managed, grazing lands reduce the risk of wildfires, modulate sedimentation, recharge groundwater, sequester carbon, and control the introduction and spread of invasive species; they conserve soil, habitat, and wildlife resources, and contribute to food security; they preserve scenic beauty, open space and vistas as well as cultural heritage values. “Those benefits are critical for society,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see how people from a lot of different backgrounds are coming together to figure out how to implement new and sustainable strategies that are good for business and also good for the public at large.”
While Hawai‘i-GLCI will promote the sound management and skillful use of grazing land resources in Hawai’i, Friday’s host Halakalā Ranch itself already serves as a perfect example of the benefits of such management. “Part of what weʻve been doing is taking a more holistic approach, where everything that we do with the cattle ties in with other parts of the environment, whether it’s the water cycle or the soil-nutrient and mineral cycles,” said Greg Friel, Livestock Manager at Haleakalā Ranch and a member of Hawai‘i Cattlemen’s Council, another primary GLCI partner. “All environmental cycles interact together in our grazing management. With well managed grazing, such as controlling the time animals stay in one area, each step becomes beneficial to the land.“
A prelude to the event had taken place the previous evening, when PBS Insights host Dan Boylan took on a panel of grazing land experts for a lively discussion with the audience. The show aired live on Thursday December 9, with repeat showings on December 11 and 12, 2010.
While providing graziers with practical assistance in creating healthy grazing ecosystems, Hawai‘i-GLCI will also work directly with the general public, upon whom graziers economically depend. It has launched a dynamic website where up-to-date information about island grazing resources and their economic and environmental benefits will be available. “It’s our goal to continue to develop partnerships in any way we can in order to improve grazing land conservation,” said Loretta Metz, State Rangeland Management Specialist at Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), another primary player in the initiative. “We will initiate or support a range of projects that meet the needs of conservation-oriented graziers on all islands.”
To summarize the drive behind the Hawai‘i-GLCI program:
Grazing lands comprise nearly a quarter of the State’s 4.11-million-acre land area. The positive contributions they provide, such as carbon sequestration and groundwater recharge, are known as “ecosystem services.” Thus, grazing land ecosystem services represent the inherent benefits that flow to the broader community from the preservation and sound management of grazing land resources. Given the increased focus on conservation and sustainability in general, the industry participates through Hawai‘i-GLCI by bringing grazing lands ecosystem services to the forefront. Graziers in Hawai‘i find themselves in the unique position to graze livestock on grass, naturally, simply because it matters to them and their families, to their communities, to the land.
How can we all help and become partners? Island communities can contribute by supporting grazing as a viable industry.
* Grazier: This term will be used throughout the Foraging for Healthy Ecosystems initiative to denote the people who manage grazing animals and utilize grazing lands to produce animal products, byproducts, and ecosystem services.
** Natural Capital Project: This joint venture between Stanford University, University of Minnesota, The Nature Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund provides tools for quantifying the values of natural capital in clear, credible, and practical ways. NCP melds research and development with on-the-ground conservation programs, while facilitating the incorporation of natural capital in decision-making processes concerning lands.