Secretary Haaland visits Hawaiʻi

Secretary of the Interior Deb HaalandSecretary of the Interior Deb Haaland took advantage of an invitation to speak at the June 2023 Hawaiʻi Conservation Conference to visit more of the Hawaiian Islands and learn about conservation activities across the state. While in the state, she demonstrated her support for elevating the voices of the Native Hawaiian and other Indigenous communities across our region.PI-CASC partnered with the Office of Insular Affairs and the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations to support Secretary Haaland’s visit around Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi Island.

On Tuesday, the secretary spoke at the plenary session of the 2023 Hawaiʻi Conservation Conference to a rapt audience. Following several heartfelt speeches focused on the crisis that endemic birds are facing, Haaland reaffirmed the commitment of the Department of the Interior (DOI) to helping the birds of the Hawaiian archipelago adapt to climate change and survive other anthropogenic pressures via the launch of the Hawaiian Forest Bird Keystone Initiative. Clearly moved by the morning’s events, she brought her own Indigenous perspective to her keynote remarks.

That afternoon, PI-CASC and partners facilitated the secretary’s visit to Paepae and Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi on windward Oʻahu, where she learned about the community’s restoration and co-management of the Heʻeia ahupuaʻa. The secretary expressed fascination with the connectivity in managing the loʻi kalo (taro patches) and the loko iʻa (Hawaiian fishpond).

On Wednesday, Haaland joined Senator Brian Schatz and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Director David Applegate to participate in a Kīpaepae ceremony blessing the ground of the new USGS Integrated Research Center to be built at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. The center is meant to be the new home for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, displaced from the old facility at Kīlauea’s summit by the extraordinary seismic activity associated with the 2018 eruption and summit collapse. USGS’s Pacific Islands Ecosystem Research Center will also be housed in the new building. The aim of building the center on the UH Hilo campus is to promote more interaction of students with ongoing research on Kīlauea and Big Island ecosystems, as the future scientists and conservationists.

“Community led conservation is one of the most important things we have going on in this country. This includes all and sometimes diverse communities,” said Secretary Haaland. “Community led conservation is our key to maintaining access to the lands to which we are connected.”

When asked what keeps her awake at night, Haaland’s unflinching answer was, “Climate change. We are living in a climate crisis. The worst thing is, kids worry about it and that is not fair. It is a terrible situation in which we have put our children. Global citizens should be concerned…You have an amazing opportunity to conserve this. Our grandkids are relying on you.”

Finally, when asked about her tenure as Secretary of the Interior, she emphasized that secretary or not, she will still help fight against climate change. She feels that she and all of us are born with an obligation to help the world around us, and that we need every person in the world to join in that obligation.

For more on Secretary Haaland’s visit and DOI efforts, explore these links:
DOI Press Release 6/27: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Nearly $16 Million through the President’s Investing in America Agenda to Prevent the Imminent Extinction of Hawaiian Forest Birds
DOI press release 6/28: Secretary Haaland, Leaders Celebrate New U.S. Geological Survey / University of Hawaiʻi Facility to Support Volcano Monitoring & Ecosystem Restoration
DOI Press release 7/3: Secretary Haaland Highlights Investing in America Agenda, Indigenous Knowledge and Collaborative Conservation in Hawaiʻi
DOI Restoration and Resilience Framework