Voluntary Long-Term Protection of Agricultural Land in Hawaii

Final Report for SW09-102

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $82,814.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Christopher Lepczyk
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Expand All

Project Information


Across Hawaii little is known about protecting agricultural land through tax and zoning incentives for land owners to voluntarily designate their lands as Important Agricultural Lands (IAL). To address these gaps in knowledge, we conducted workshops across the state, held a statewide workshop, revised fact sheets, developed a geographic information systems database of IAL and surveyed 400 landowners that qualify for IAL designation. Approximately 350 individuals participated in local and statewide workshops and 172 (43% response rate) individuals responded to the survey. Overall, few landowners currently participate in voluntary easement programs, but they were interested in becoming participants.

Project Objectives:
  1. Determine the value/significance of incentives to producers and landowners to participate in voluntary agricultural land protection programs.
    Evaluate the potential impact of the new state Important Agricultural Lands program to produce long-term protection of agricultural land.
    Develop alternative prioritization strategies that can be used to target funds for acquiring agricultural conservation easements.
    Educate stakeholders, including government officials, non-profit staff, agricultural professionals and landowners about the value and impact of voluntary agricultural land protection programs in Hawaii.

Hawaii’s agricultural land has been facing increased pressure for residential and non-agricultural purposes. To address these pressures, Hawaii has relied on zoning approaches to protect agricultural land, beginning with the enactment of the Land Use Law in 1965. Although since 1978, Hawaii’s State Constitution has mandated that the state take measures to identify and protect agricultural lands, it took almost 30 years to enact relevant legislation. In 2006, the state legislature approved a process for counties to identify Important Agricultural Lands (IAL). Following passage of the law in 2008, the bill provided an array of tax and other incentives for landowners to voluntarily designate their lands as IAL.

The IAL legislation sparked political controversy, with some members of the public perceiving the IAL incentives as a give away to landowners by allowing them to change agricultural lands into more lucrative urban/suburban uses that will contribute to urban sprawl. However, other members of the public perceive that the IAL incentives are a good first step to stemming the tide of conversion of agricultural land to urban uses. In particular, because state and county zoning in Hawaii has failed to stop large scale conversion of agricultural land into residential areas, including urban expansion and development of agricultural subdivisions that are primarily residential in purpose, it is unknown how much the recent IAL legislation will slow down the loss of agricultural lands.

An alternative to zoning is the use of conservation easements and land trusts. A burgeoning national land trust movement has recently spread to Hawaii. The federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) became active in Hawaii in 2003, providing funding for the purchase of conservation easements that dedicate land to agriculture in perpetuity. In 2005 the State of Hawaii passed the Legacy Land Act which established a land conservation fund with a dedicated source of funding using an annual 10% set-aside from the state’s real property conveyance tax. All four counties (Maui and Kauai in 2002 and Hawaii and Oahu in 2006) established land conservation programs with dedicated funding 0.5 to 1% of real property taxes. These state and county programs provide opportunities to match FRPP funding. Similarly, the United States Army is providing major funding to purchase property and conservation easements surrounding military bases. Finally, other federal programs provide funding for conservation easements that protect other types of resources (e.g., working forests, habitat for rare species, coastal lands, and wetlands).

Because the voluntary incentive programs in Hawaii are relatively new, there is poor understanding of how widely known they are to professionals or landowners. Furthermore, the financial consequences of selling conservation easements or designating one’s land as IAL are not well understood, which limits landowner interest and involvement. Given the overall lack of understanding about IAL, there is a great need for educational and marketing efforts to expand the knowledge about these programs and their potential impact on landowners.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Christopher Lepczyk


Materials and methods:

In order to address objectives 1-3, we used two main approaches. First, we developed a geographic information systems (GIS) database of IAL locations across the main Hawaiian Islands from State of Hawaii records. This GIS database provided a framework of where IAL lands were located across the state. Second, using the GIS database as a general guide along with publically available records of landowners living in locations designated as IAL, we conducted a survey of 400 landowners that qualify for IAL designation across the main Hawaiian Islands. Specifically, we mailed out a 23 question survey (see attached survey) using the Tailored Design Method (Dillman et al. 2009). The Tailored Design Method uses multiple mailings to encourage response to the survey. In the case of our survey we mailed the surveys in the middle of March 2012, followed by a reminder/thank you post card two weeks later and finally a second copy of the survey to all remaining non-respondents in the middle of April 2012. Data from the survey are currently being analyzed using conjoint analysis and standard parametric statistics, which will provide the basis for addressing the first three objectives.

To address the final objective (4), a subcontract was given to Oahu Resource Conservation & Development Council (ORCDC). Specifically, ORCDC developed the educational programs and outreach material as follows. First, ORCDC produced training materials and fact sheets on a variety of land preservation topics based upon published sources and included information on land trust structure, legal aspects of conservation easements and funding sources. Materials were distributed at the island workshops and also loaded onto ORCDC’s website. Second, ORCDC coordinated five (5) workshops highlighting the use of conservation easements to protect agricultural land. Workshops were held on the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Hawaii during the fall/winter of 2010 – 2011. Third, ORCDC coordinated one (1) statewide workshop on voluntary agricultural protection in January 12, 2012 on Oahu.

Research results and discussion:

Of the 400 landowners surveyed, 172 responded, yielding a 43% response rate. On average respondents had only a fair (possible answers included: poor, fair, good and excellent) knowledge of agricultural easements, Important Agricultural Lands and the purchase of development rights. Nearly 87% of all respondents were not currently participating in any kind of agricultural easement or were unsure if they were participating. Only five respondents knew they were participating in an agricultural easement. Approximately 19% of the respondents would be willing to consider donating their property development rights in return for income tax credits. Notably, there were no clear reasons explaining the motivations for those interested in donating the development rights of their agricultural land, except that the greatest proportion of individuals had a strong sense of attachment to their land. Nearly 40% of landowners strongly or somewhat agreed that there would be high risk of their land parcel being developed in the next decade. The average respondent owned 1,967 acres of agricultural land (range 5 to 180,000). However, 78% of respondents owned >100 acres. The average respondent had a Bachelors degree and earned between $70,000 and $100,000 per year. Overall, landowners generally lacked knowledge of many conservation easement programs and few were enrolled.

Approximately 350 individuals participated in local and statewide workshops and 172 (43% response rate) individuals responded to the survey. Overall, post workshop surveys indicated that few landowners currently participate in voluntary easement programs, but that they were interested in becoming participants.

Research conclusions:

The measurable impacts of the project to date are the number of attendees at the workshops and the feedback they provided. Specifically, attendees at each workshop were provided with a post workshop survey to indicate their value. All survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed in the value of the workshops and that the workshops increased their understanding of how conservation easements can help communities and landowners achieve land preservation goals. In addition, all respondents to the survey strongly agreed or agree that they will take at least one step to encourage landowners, land use professionals or community leaders to learn about land preservation strategies and conservation easements. In the future, we anticipate the measurable impacts will be an increase in knowledge and participation in conservation easements.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:


Currently one student is completing his MS thesis on the survey portion of the research. The anticipated title of the thesis is “Voluntary long term protection of agricultural land in Hawaii” authored by Noe Abejon Aparicio. Following the successful defense of the degree, Noe Abejon (MS student), Linda Cox and I plan to submit two manuscripts for publication, based upon the work, to peer reviewed journals. We are targeting submission in summer of 2013.


Three main outreach activities were conducted as part of the research. First, fact sheets were developed about land preservation topics and placed both online (http://www.oahurcd.org/land-preservation/ and http://www.oahurcd.org/Presentations-and-Materials/) and distributed as hard copies at workshops. Second, five workshops highlighting the use of conservation easements to protect agricultural land were conducted on the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Hawaii. Attendance at each island workshop were as follows: Oahu 54 people, Hawaii 50 people, Kauai 42 people, Maui 45 people, and Molokai 24 people attended over two sessions. Third, a statewide workshop on voluntary agricultural protection was held on January 12, 2012 with approximately 125 people attending. The previously mentioned fact sheets were distributed at the statewide workshop and have been included as an Appendix to this report.

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Areas needing additional study

Our work indicates that to date few individuals have enrolled their agricultural land into any type of conservation easement program and that many farmers were unaware of all the details about the varying easement programs. Hence, there is a need to find out why easement information is not being communicated to farmers and any problems they face with trying to enroll in programs. Furthermore, additional economic analyses are needed on the costs and benefits of different types of easement programs on Hawaii’s Important Agricultural Lands.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.