Posted on Feb 29, 2024 in Forestry & Wildlife, Main, News Releases, slider


Feb. 29, 2024


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(HONOLULU) –  Accessing Hawaiʻi’s natural and cultural resources is a popular activity for locals and visitors. The Nā Manu ʻElele Steward Program, a collaboration between Kupu, Hawaiʻi’s largest youth-focused conservation and sustainability nonprofit, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) aims to inform and connect the people at wahi pana (legendary places, and living, breathing spaces).

The Nā Manu ʻElele Program was piloted on Hawaiʻi Island at Pololū Valley in 2022. There, trail stewards engaged with hikers and visitors to educate them about native plants and animals, the cultural and historical significance of the area, safety concerns, and preserving the area. With two years of success at Pololū, in the form of notable reductions in hiking accidents, instances of illegal camping, and parking violations, the program looked to expand to other islands.

Through HTA’s partnership and funding from EDA’s State Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation grant, statewide expansion began in December 2023 and is already proving effective on trails on O‘ahu and elsewhere. Funding will allow for the hiring of more than 20 stewards through 2026.

Aaron Lowe, Nā Ala Hele Trails and Access Program Specialist who supervises stewards on O‘ahu, is excited about the impacts so far. “People are enjoying the interaction and education from stewards,” said Lowe. “Visitors are walking away with a new appreciation and understanding of the plants, animals, and place itself.”

According to Laila Kaupu, steward supervisor in the Hawai‘i Island community of Miloli‘i, a Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area, the stewards’ engagement with visitors to these wahi pana is reciprocal. “Building pilina to ‘āina (that which feeds us) grows in understanding the gift of giving, the kuleana (responsibility) to mālama (care for, protect). It shows you can give back before taking. Knowing how one can fill a void before creating it. This is how we mālama ʻāina,” Kaupu said.

“Hiring kamaʻāina who want to step up and protect the special places in their communities is a very tangible, direct manifestation of the regenerative tourism model that we are working toward for Hawaiʻi. In doing so, we are also assuring a quality experience for all who enjoy our natural resources,” said Daniel Nāhoʻopiʻi, HTA interim President & Chief Executive Officer. “We are appreciative of this partnership with DLNR to advance our shared mission to mālama Hawaiʻi.”

“Kupu is excited to partner with DLNR and embark on this journey to engage local communities, protect Hawai‘i’s natural and cultural treasures, and nurture a new generation of environmental stewards,” said Kupu CEO, John Leong. “In traditional Hawaiian context, birds, or nā manu, represent messengers, guardians, and beings of a particular place. ʻElele refers to individuals who act as ambassadors. Kupu is honored to secure part-time and full-time Nā Manu ʻElele positions on the islands of Hawaiʻi, Maui, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, and Kauaʻi.”

The steward program is still accepting applications for various sites on Maui and Kaua‘i and on a rolling basis for other islands. To apply, please visit: https://www.kupuhawaii.org/na-manu-elele.

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(All images/video courtesy: DLNR)


HD video – Pololū Valley stewards (May 19 and August 29, 2022):



Photographs – Pololū Valley stewards (May 19, 2022):



HD video – Nā Manu ʻElele – media clips (Feb. 22, 2024):



Photographs – Nā Manu ʻElele Program Stewards (Feb. 22, 2024):





Media Contact:

Ryan Aguilar

Communications Specialist

Hawai‘i Dept. of Land and Natural Resources

[email protected]