Natural Area Reserves

Learn about Hawai`i's Natural Area Reserve System and efforts to protect these important natural and cultural resources.

In collaboration with a broad coalition comprised of low-income housing advocates, social service organizations, churches, environmentalists and Native Hawaiians, KAHEA worked to pass the Legacy Lands Act in 2005.

This law, first introduced by KAHEA in 2003, provides a secure funding source dedicated to the protection of Hawai'i’s unique ecosystems and it also increases funding for much-needed affordable housing in Hawai'i.

What is the NARS?

The NARS was established by the late Governor John Burns and the state legislature in 1970. The Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife currently oversees 19 Natural Area Reserves in the system, totaling 109,164 acres of state-managed land. To date, there are reserves on the islands of Kaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i, Maui and Hawai'i.

Nearly all the reserves face numerous threats. Only one-fourth of the entire system is actively managed and protected at this time. State funding for the NARS has dwindled over the years. Only $11 per acre per year is spent to protect some of the best remaining native ecosystems on state-managed land. The equivalent of one staff person for every 5,745 acres of reserve is currently assigned to manage the NARS on the ground.

The NARS provides essential habitat for native plants and animals and refuge for some of our most endangered species. Most of the reserves are watersheds that support the people, the economy and the unique culture of Hawai`i. All but two of the reserves are "ceded" lands, crown lands held "in trust" for the people of Hawai`i.

Coral reefs, anchialine pools, sand dunes, sea cliffs, waterfalls, streams, lava tube caves, aeolian deserts, grasslands, rain forests, dry forests, bogs, snowy alpine terrain, montane lakes, kipuka and dozens of other unique Hawaiian ecosystems are protected in the NARS.

The importance of the NARS is evident in living Hawaiian culture and in the many ways all of Hawai'i's people depend on and enjoy the environment. If we lose Hawaiian plants and animals, we lose a very special part of our world. Not only is the beauty of Hawai'i is diminished, the traditions that are based on these species will also be lost. From mauka to makai, the NARS protects some of the most biologically rich areas remaining in Hawai'i.

KAHEA continues to partner with the other organizations, local communities and Native Hawaiian practitioners to raise public awareness and support, and help secure permanent adequate funding for this extraordinary program.

Did you know?

  • The NARS represents one of the highest concentrations of protected biodiversity in the world.
  • All but two of the 19 reserves are on "ceded" lands, held in trust for the people of Hawai'i.
  • Heiau and other cultural sites in the reserves are vulnerable to damage and deterioration without the necessary funding to manage the NARS.
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