Myth #2: If cane isn’t grown, the land will be dry and dusty.

A) We always get a laugh out of this one as A&B’s terrible agricultural practices and the way their tilling blows dust onto the reefs and obscures Haleakala are the subject of concern that ranks higher with the EPA than does their burning.

Think this photo is of smoke? Nope. It is blowing topsoil from HC&S tilling.

As a landowner, A&B has a legal obligation to prevent fugitive dust from harming downwind neighbors. The only reason it has not been sued by those harmed by its fugitive dust is because the legislative has passed several laws over the years that has removed individuals’ right to sue companies like A&B for the damages they cause.

People have lived in South Maui for hundreds of years before Alexander & Baldwin or Claus Spreckels began growing sugar in Central Maui. Historical incidents of fugitive dust in the 19th century occurred because of the widespread destruction of native ecosystems and habitats that had developed over hundreds of thousands of years.

Former cane field not being irrigated. Covered with naturally occurring vegetation - no dust

Former cane field not being irrigated. Covered with naturally occurring vegetation – no dust

B) Check out the area by Ma’alaea which used to be cane and is now fallow.  See any dust?  Nope.  No dust.  There will be LESS dust without HC&S’s agricultural tilling.  This is also an argument for no-burn harvesting which only requires replanting every 6 years rather than every other year and thus generates only one-third the dust. Before cane was burned in Hawaii, cane was only replanted about once a decade and instead relied on the long-standing practice of ratooning.

Dr. Lee Altenberg, respected UH research affiliate has this to say about the “dusty wasteland” myth:

[A Maui News column] was full of errors Dec. 31 when confronting the issue of sugar growing in Maui’s Central Valley. He spreads the fallacy that Maui’s central valley was “naturally” a wasteland before sugar cultivation.

The natural state of the valley was a thick dryland forest. In this forest, giant flightless ducks, nene, and other birds roamed among trees that grew nowhere else in the world. Eagar compares the Valley to the Arizona desert. Find me one town in Arizona named for flocks of geese that lived there, as Pu`u Nene is named.

But it was cattle that turned the Valley into a dust bowl. Beginning in 1793, for a whole generation cattle had been let loose to run over Maui. Cattle, pigs, goats and deer turned virtually all of Hawaii’s dryland forest areas into dust . A Natural History of the Hawaiian Islands; edited by E. A. Kay (available in area bookstores), gives abundant details.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Maui’s forests restored? The State convened a conference in Hilo this week to look into just that—the potentials of agro-forestry as a replacement for sugar cane. Mauians have far more constructive approaches to “the sugar problem” than espousing fallacious myths about Maui’s “natural” wastelands. Reforestation would bring back one of the great lost pieces of Maui’s enchantments.