Op-Ed: Protecting our Public Lands and Waters

Public Lands, Public Waters

Public Lands, Public Waters
“Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Āina i ka Pono”

That is the Hawaii state motto, and translated, it means “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

As I sit here on Maui, looking at the Pacific Ocean, in the shadow of the Haleakala volcano, home to one of our nation’s great National Parks, I can’t help but think how relevant that motto is right now.

The motto, first spoken by King Kamehameha in 1843, after sovereignty was returned to the island people after a brief British takeover, has many translations and possible meanings. But the one that I am thinking of now reads like this:

“To do what is right – in your life and for the land.”

Hawaii is a state where its people are keenly attuned to both the Wai and Aina – water and land – and how both must be protected to nourish and sustain all life. That balance and synergy is essential. The economy of the state depends on it, as do the livelihoods of its citizens.

If you want a great explanation of this ethic of sustainabilty, you’ll find it in Zane Schweitzer’s video, Deep Blue Day. 

That’s an ethic that is important for all 50 states and our nation’s territories, not just Hawaii. And as paddlers, people who are passionate about spending time on the water, outside, we understand that ethic, no matter where we paddle. And it’s hard to imagine not having those places to paddle.

President Teddy Roosevelt spoke of this importance in 1912, when the National Park Service was created.

“The establishment of the National Park Service is justified by considerations of good administration, of the value of natural beauty as a National asset, and of the effectiveness of outdoor life and recreation in the production of good citizenship.”

And President Franklin D. Roosevelt:

“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.”

Earlier this week, in one fell swoop and despite public opposition, the President of the United States cut the size of two national monuments by two million acres, making that decision the largest rollback of federal protected lands in our country’s history.

Those lands include some of the most pristine paddling spots in our nation.

The action will likely go to court, and should the administration prevail, it could set a precedent for future revocations of public land designations, opening up our parks and forests to all kinds of development.

The President said this about his decision:

“Together,” he continued, “we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth.”

But our National Parks, National Seashores, National Monuments, National Forests, along with their state and local counterparts, are already full of wonder and wealth. You’ve no doubt seen it and experienced it yourself if you’ve ever gone paddling, hiking, camping, backpacking or biking in them. You’ve seen your families become richer for the experience of being in The Great Outdoors. You’ve reaped the rewards of being outside.  In fact, there’s a growing body of evidence that supports what most of us already know – there are significant health benefits to being in nature.

Being outside:

• Boosts immune system.
• Lowers blood pressure.
• Reduces stress.
• Improves mood.
• Increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD.
• Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness.
• Increases energy level.
• Improves sleep.

A life outside is truly a life well-lived.

Parks and other open spaces contribute significantly to local economies as tourist destinations and job generators. They are key economic development tools since they increase the quality of life of those who live near them, making those areas attractive to businesses looking to relocate or expand.

A public park might just be the place where someone tries paddling for the first time and gets hooked.  Or it’s where we train.


Public Lands, Public Waters


But let’s not forget…if we do not have open space and clean air and clean water, we have nothing.

There is so much beauty in this land of ours, no matter where we look. We are stewards of it. We need that balance and harmony that comes with protecting it. That last word in the Hawaii state motto is Pono — among its many meanings are the following: completeness, care, value, goodness, hope, to do what’s right.

It is Pono to protect our public lands.