Cayetano governed during a period of serious economic problems and made relative few statements about the environment. In a State of the State address, he said, simply, “Every day, I am thankful I live in the most beautiful place on earth.” He called for “keeping wild places wild.” Two of his top-level appointments were crucial to his environmental programs. Foremost was attorney Michael Wilson, best known for leadership of the Save Sandy Beach Movement, who chaired the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Second was Dr. Bruce Anderson, deputy director for the environmental programs of the Department of Health. Anderson later became the department’s director.
Cayetano’s first-term performance was scrutinized by an ad hoc citizen’s organization, The Price of Paradise Accountability Group, led by Dr. Dolores Foley, current chair of the University of Hawaii’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning. Members included Robbie Alm, senior president of Hawaiian Electric, mediator Peter Adler and designer Momi Cazimero. Their work is available on the web.
The Governor’s performance also was the subject of an extensive article by David Kimo Frankel in his capacity as staff director of the Sierra Club. Frankel concluded that while environmentalists, including himself, had often criticized Cayetano, as governor he had done much for the environment.
According to Frankel, “Cayetano convinced legislators to provide the bond money to purchase Queen’s Beach in order to keep the Ka Iwi coastline wild. He approved the designation of the Humpback Whale Sanctuary.” Frankel also cited Cayetano’s role in preserving the Mahaulepu coastline on Kauai and his opposition to urbanization to lands next to the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park on the Kona Coast of Hawaii.
The Administration established scientifically rigorous coral and reef fish monitoring along the Kona coast and at Molokini Marine Life Conservation District off the leeward coast of Maui.
On Kauai’s North Shore, the Administration regulated Zodiac intrusions into water caves, licensed and limited water craft and provided guidance to both visitors and licensees on caring for the wilderness.
In 1999, Cayetano began the process to get the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) protected. The following year, Pres. Bill Clinton signed a proclamation establishing the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, which later became (under Pres. George H. Bush) Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
Cayetano signed an executive order granting a perpetual Conservation Easement over 314 acres of Mount Olomana in Kailua, which he declared a state monument. This was a milestone in a long-term effort to keep development from overwhelming the distinctive volcano remnant that serves as Kailua’s landmark.
Cayetano increased the State’s environmental conservation enforcement staff by one-third during his first term.
Cayetano formed a Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species that encompassed 14 state, federal and private agencies. It identified 10 of the “most unwanted” alien species and enlisted the public in the campaign against their importation. “The Silent Invasion of Hawaii” campaign expanded people’s awareness of alien threats. The Nature Conservancy played a prominent role in these programs.
The 1996 Amnesty Week turned up iguana, Burmese python and bearded dragons. People who persisted in keeping illegal pets were investigated by the expanded enforcement staff, prosecuted, fined heavily and in some instances, sentenced to jail time.
Operation Miconia tackled the killer plant which at that time had devastated two thirds of the mountain forests of Tahiti and was rapidly invading the moutain forests and watershed of the Hawaiian Islands.
Through a State partnership with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, students became involved in caring for streams, Malama Na Kahawai. DLNR hired a volunteer coordinator to enlist citizens in stream/marine monitoring and cleanup activities.
Cayetano was an early advocate for the recycling movement, issuing an executive order directing State recycling of white paper, newspaper and cardboard. The Administration hired a recycling coordinator and developed a glass and metal recovery program.
The Department of Health published a first annual “Environmental Report Card.” Using that report, Cayetano argued for increased regulatory funding.
Under the leadership of Dr. Anderson, the Health Department undertook an aggressive program of monitoring buildings, playgrounds and other locations for lead. Where the threat of lead was found, children were immediately tested and the results shared with parents.