Pupukea Paumalu was saved, but did it bolster military expansion in Hawai’i and wars in other lands?

The Hawaii Independent carried a story about the recent release of the draft long range resource management plan for Pupukea Paumalu.  The preservation of Pupukea Paumalu (on the north shore of O’ahu, near Sunset Beach) as the North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT) is the fruit of a decades long struggle to protect the area from development by a Japanese corporation.  It represents a significant win for the environmental movement in Hawai’i and should be celebrated.

However, there is a troubling underside to the land purchase arrangement that complicates the story.   As the Hawaii Independent article states:

TPL [Trust for Public Land] signed a $7.97 million purchase agreement with Obayashi, making TPL the owners of the land. Funds were raised with the combined efforts of NSCLT, the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, and other public and private sectors. The acreage is divided between the two ahupuaa, Pupukea and Paumalu, and ranges from the Kahuku border of Sunset Hills to the Haleiwa side of Paumalu Gulch. Twenty-five acres of the property located along Kamehameha Highway was transferred to the City and County of Honolulu Parks Department and the remaining 1,104 acres was transferred to the State of Hawaii Parks Division, which holds it as a park reserve.

The U.S. Army contributed around 2 million dollars toward the purchase of the land.   There is nothing inherently wrong with a community group accepting military money for protection of the environment, but why would the military contribute money to a community organization for the preservation of land?  The Army’s contribution was not driven by its concern for keeping the north shore “country”.

The Draft Long Range Resource Management Plan for Pupukea Paumalu contains a clue:

Army training activities at KTA [Kahuku Training Area] are restricted to blank ammunition, limited pyrotechnics, but use of live-fire and tracer ammunition, incendiaries, and explosives is prohibited.  Small arms up to .50 caliber and 3.5 inch rockets with inert rounds may be used.

The Army occupies tens of thousands of acres of adjacent land in Kahuku and the northern Ko’olau range.  As part of its Stryker Brigade expansion that was protested by affected residents, the Army seized an additional 25,000 acres of land – 23,000 on Hawai’i island and 2000 on O’ahu.   It expanded training facilities in Mokuleia and Kahuku to include Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) and Stryker Brigade maneuver training.  The Army is also expanding military access roads connecting Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa, with Mokuleia and Kahuku.  Essentially the entire North Shore of O’ahu is being transformed into a maneuver zone for the Strykers.  It was with the backdrop of protests and contentious community hearings that the Army contributed to the purchase of the Pupukea Paumalu land trust.

The Army’s rationale was that over the last twenty years, creeping urbanization near military training facilities have resulted in conflicts over land use and constraints on training activities. The military calls this “encroachment”.  In order to prevent encroachment, the military came up with what it calls conservation buffers, that is, creating natural areas as buffers around training areas.   From the military’s point of view it is a “win-win”: development near bases is held at bay; ecosystems are preserved; and the Army gains in public relations points.

Under the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program (ACUB):

An ACUB allows an installation to work with partners to encumber land to protect habitat and training without acquiring any new land for Army ownership. Through ACUBs, the Army reaches out to partners to identify mutual objectives of land conservation and to prevent development of critical open areas. The program allows the Army to contribute funds to the partner’s purchase of easements or properties from willing landowners. These partnerships preserve high-value habitat and limit incompatible development in the vicinity of military installations.

Ironically, in the case of the Pupukea Paumalu land deal, it was the Army and its Stryker brigade that was encroaching on undeveloped and uncontaminated areas with its destructive training activities.  Yet the encroachment buffer was used as the rationale for contributing to the Pupukea Paumalu deal.   The other factor to consider is that since the majority of the land that the U.S. military occupies in Hawai’i are the stolen national lands of the Hawaiian Kingdom, decisions that help to entrench destructive military activities in Hawai’i prolong the injustice.

Around 2005, leaders of the North Shore Community Land Trust and Trust for Public Land met with representatives of DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina to discuss the pending ACUB funding.  DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina was assured that ACUB monies were unrelated to the Stryker Brigade expansion, and yet, the land trust leaders would not publicly oppose the Stryker brigade expansion for fear of upsetting the deal.  So 1200 acres were preserved, but at what price?  Silence in the face of losing 25,000 acres, the largest military land grab since WWII?

The Army is using the conservation buffer in Pupukea Paumalu to solidify its grip on land it wrongfully occupies; facilitate the expansion of the Army’s destructive impacts; and neutralize opposition from key environmental leaders and groups.  Furthermore, the Pupukea Paumalu deal was a precedent for other ACUBs, including Moanalua Valley and Waimea Valley.  In an age when our planet is shrinking and our actions and very survival on the planet are intricately interconnected, can we afford to remain “single issue” at the expense of harm to other people or resources?

Finally, partnerships with the military always raise the question: what mission does the partnership endorse, either explicitly or implicitly?   In the case of the Native Hawaiian covenant with the Army, Native Hawaiians who signed the document essentially agreed that destructive military training on Hawaiian lands and the wars furthered by such training are acceptable.    Similarly, “Army Compatible Use Buffers (ACUBs) support the Army’s mission to fight and win the nation’s wars.”   Strykers that train in Kahuku and Pohakuloa will soon be patrolling the streets in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Will their war fighting skills perfected in the beautifully protected mountains of the North Shore leave wailing mothers in distant Afghan villages mourning dead children?


Déborah Berman Santana


My understanding of a “community land trust” (CLT) is that the members of that trust – which should own the land – are local people who join the CLT. If the title is in the hands of the county and state govts. that does not make it a CLT.

I support real CLTs. And no, opposing militarization of any location should not be a NIMBY issue, but a NIABY issue.


Aloha Deborah. The ACUB-funded CLTs are owned by non-profits, but the military inserts some sort of covenant or encumbrance on the land. Kyle

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