Now Is The Time To Value Our Grazing Lands

by HI-GLC on March 4, 2011

Hawai‘i Grazing Lands InitiativeHawai‘i’s multifaceted culture, green pasturelands, productive soils, and life-enhancing watersheds are treasured assets that define these islands. While shifts in land use have affected these resources, an increasing number of diverse organizations are becoming vigilant to protect them. Aware of the many benefits that flow from well-managed open space, a partnership of grazers (from Hawai‘i’s beef, dairy, sheep and goat industries) formed the Hawai‘i Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative Committee (GLCI) to promote the sound management and skillful use of all grazing land resources in Hawai’i.

In coordination with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service-Pacific Islands Area and Hawai’i Cattlemen’s Council, this group is committed to furthering the grazing industry’s contribution to natural resource and ecosystem conservation. “Sustainable grazing with appropriate conservation and resource practices gives us economic and ecological resilience,” says GLCI Chair Earl Spence. “Well-managed grazing lands, which are associated with healthy watersheds, are vital to the future of Hawai’i.” As a first action item in 2010, GLCI has launched a landmark program to raise awareness about the multiple environmental and ecological services that Hawai‘i’s grazing lands provide for the general public. The livestock industry and its agricultural allies are coming together in this initiative to explain the mission of the partnership.

To summarize the drive behind the program: Grazing lands comprise nearly a quarter of the State’s 4.11-million-acre land area. 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. Collectively these services are known as “ecosystem services.” Grazing land ecosystem services represent the inherent benefits that flow to the broader community from the preservation and sound management of these land resources.

The invaluable services of grazing lands never garnered much explicit attention in the past, not from within the industry nor from the public. However, given the increased focus on conservation and sustainability in general, it is only natural that the industry participates by bringing to the forefront the positive contributions of grazing lands, which are part of watersheds, to enhance them, to make them better understood. Often tending family lands that have been in grazing for generations, those involved are now reaching out for support from their communities to ensure skillful, expanded and improved stewardship.

Hawai‘i Grazing Lands InitiativeManaged grazing lands ensure a healthier, more productive industry, so that improved stewardship can sustain itself. This is important. “We want to do a better job at grazing because good grazing lands management is good for the environment; fortunately, this is better for the industry,” says Spence. “This means that our communities can directly contribute by supporting us as a viable industry.” The effort makes sense: Recent environmental, health, and food safety concerns as well as new scientific findings point to a need for expanded conservation initiatives and stronger local economies.

The GLCI educational program provides a platform to address this dynamic: “It’s up to us to show that grazing is about more than livestock production,” says Alan Gottlieb, President of Hawai‘i Cattlemen’s Council. “It’s life for families, a supporting backdrop for our communities, a foundation for the economic output of the state, and a complement to our sustainability. Grazers in Hawai‘i now find themselves in the unique position to graze livestock on grass, naturally, simply because it matters.”

The GLCI campaign will include a series of releases with story angles anchored around conservation and grazing news, highlighting connections between grazing, communities, environment, food choices, ecosystem services, and economy. An educational flier for keiki is in the works. Campaign web pages will be hosted on the Hawai’i Cattlemen’s Council website. Come fall, outreach will culminate with a media launch. We can have healthy Islands. We can keep our grasslands. “Bringing value to ecosystem services: That’s what we are banking on,” Gottlieb says.

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