Maui Coastal Land Trust Pioneers Hailed as “Champions of the Land”

By J. Sam Weiss

Applause for Susan Bradford and Lucienne de Naie, honored by the Hawai’i Land Trust (HILT) as its “2022 Champions of the Land” at a ceremony hosted by Old Lahaina Luau April 2. Two decades ago, the two environmental activists helped launch the Maui Coastal Land Trust that has since preserved thousands of coastal acres in its natural state.

What began as a conversation among like-minded friends about the need to protect pristine open space on the island for future generations evolved into a public information campaign and a series of community gatherings to create a mechanism for land conservation. “We really did need to have a land trust focusing on our coastal lands, because it didn’t seem to be anybody’s job,” de Naie told Maui Times. She added that Helen Nielsen was a driving force behind the nascent group, as were Chuck Meyers, Diane Zachary and attorney Tom Pierce.

Photo by Bryan Berkowitz

Clutching a handbook from the National Land Trust Alliance on how to get started, the pair followed its instructions, step by step. “As tree huggers, we couldn’t do it by ourselves, but as a group of stakeholders, we had some power,” said Bradford of the group’s inception.

The trust was formed in 2002 and initially focused its efforts on acquiring 227 acres of coastal dunes and wetlands which now make up the Waihe‘e Dunes Refuge, purchased by the trust in 2004 with a combination of county and federal funds along with individual contributions. Located near the Waiehu Golf Course, the land contains distinctive dunes, remnants of a large heiau (a place of worship and sacrificial offerings), multiple Native Hawaiian burials, and nesting sites for endangered birds, including the Hawaiian stilt, duck and coot. A Native Hawaiian hui has proposed restoring the heiau, severely damaged by multiple tsunamis over the past hundred years. Hula halaus also visit the land, and some locals have planted endemic plants there to harvest dyes for kapa cloth and other native traditions.

“I am so proud of what has become of the land trust,” Bradford says, getting visibly emotional. Noting that many of HILTS staff are Native Hawaiians or have deep ties to the islands she continued, “To see that it’s grown to have such spiritual roots is the best of all.”

J. Sam Weiss