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New Land Agreement Preserves ‘Ulupalakua as a Working Ranch

Land preservation agreement between land trust and land owners ensures that a portion of the slopes of Haleakalä will continue as a working ranch and wildlife habitat. “The people of Maui will benefit, thanks to their vision… ”

December 10, 2009
Maui Weekly Staff

This is the largest-ever voluntary easement donation in the State of Hawai‘i.

The agriculture easement agreements apply to two large contiguous parcels, including approximately 6,000 acres on the western slopes of the ranch, mauka of Highway 37 and extending from ranch headquarters up to the boundary of Poli Poli State Park. This area is primarily used for livestock grazing, farming and agri-farming.

The second parcel consists of the entire ‘Auwahi ahupua‘a, 5,328 acres running lengthwise from the shore up to 6,000-foot elevation of Haleakalā.

Article Photos

Maui Coastal Land Trust and the Erdman family, owners of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch, signed a historic land preservation agreement on Saturday, Nov. 28, ensuring that nearly 12,000 acres along the leeward slopes of Haleakalā will continue as a working ranch and wildlife habitat.

The mauka portion of this ahupua‘a is home to the ‘Auwahi Habitat Restoration Project led by conservationist Art Medeiros, and is part of the Leeward Haleakalā Watershed Restoration Partnership.

The vision to safeguard their family-run ranching operation and the perpetuity of ‘Ulupalakua’s natural areas and open vistas drove the Erdman’s decision to form this agreement with MCLT.

“Fifty years ago, I was surveying the island for development sights when I ended up in Wailea and had the chance to look up to see the marvelous green hills of ‘Ulupalakua, reflected Pardee Erdman, owner of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch. “Little did I know I’d be saving it someday.”

With this addition, MCLT, the first land trust in Hawai‘i to become nationally accredited, now oversees nearly 16,000 acres of protected lands on Maui and Moloka‘i.

“It is both humbling and inspiring to work with families like the Erdmans who have such a strong love for the land,” said MCLT Executive Director Dale Bonar. “For all generations to come, the people of Maui will benefit, thanks to their vision and what has been accomplished with this historic land preservation agreement.”

In the case of the ‘Ulupalakua easement, the owners are extinguishing most of the potential subdivision and residential development entitlements currently available to these lands, ensuring they will always be available for agricultural activities. The landowners reserve the right to develop renewable energy projects, agriculturally appropriate commercial and non-commercial endeavors, and support farm dwellings, all of which are permitted under principal, accessory and special uses for agricultural districts according to Maui County Code Chapter 19.30A.

As previously announced (“Maui Wind Energy Power Project Acquired by Sempra Generation,” in the Dec. 3–9 issue of the Maui Weekly), Sempra Energy has a lease for a wind energy farm to be placed on a portion of ‘Auwahi. The wind farm will not be visible from the Kīhei-Mākena area.

‘Ulupalakua Ranch, the island’s second largest cattle ranch, operates on approximately 18,000 acres—two-thirds of which are now permanently protected for this traditional lifestyle and culture.

The area has a rich history of agriculture use. Erdman purchased the ranch in 1963 from the Baldwin family. Prior to cattle ranching, the land was used to farm sugarcane, potatoes and corn, and before that, sweet potato, dry land taro, and specialty hardwoods such as sandalwood and koa.

Land preservation agreements, especially in the form of agricultural easements, are widely used across the country as a means to retain land in traditional usage, such as working farms and ranches. Such easements become part of the deed and place permanent covenants on the use of the lands, defining what activities are permitted and which are restricted.

By agreeing to waive (or severely limit) development potential, easements offer family-run farms a solution to inhibiting land value inflation, offer tax incentives and are effective tools in estate planning. The role of the land trust as the holder of the easements is to ensure that, for perpetuity, all future owners abide by the terms of the covenants, and to pursue legal means to defend them should a future owner try to violate those terms.

To date, there are over 1,800 land trusts across the nation protecting over 34 million acres of land.



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