Molly Schmidt’s love for the environment developed at an early age during camping trips in the backwoods of Wisconsin. Her father’s naturalist view of the world further inspired and cultivated her passion for nature.
Her early experiences with nature inspired her interest in environmental law. When it came to choosing law schools, Schmidt was attracted to the University of Hawaii due in part to the Hawaiian Islands’ isolation and unique environmental issues
Just before graduating from law school, Schmidt learned that the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources was recruiting for a coordinator for a new program, the Legacy Land Conservation Program (LLCP), and was immediately attracted by the job prospect: “It sounded like a great opportunity to directly aid conservation programs.” Now, she administers the LLCP and, in the process, has found her legal niche – land conservation.
The LLCP oversees the distribution of monies allocated to the Land Conservation Fund (LCF) from state conveyance taxes (currently the LCF receives 10% of the state conveyance taxes). Monies in the LCF may be used to purchase fee title or conservation easements over lands “having value as a resource to the state.” Awards are given to those projects that are deemed most critical for conservation protection. This is determined based on careful review by the Legacy Land Conservation Commission, a consultation with the Senate President and Speaker of the House, and the approval of the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Governor. In 2008, the LLCP awarded $4.7 million to one county project (County of Hawaii) and four nonprofit projects (Waianae Community Re-development Corporation, Kauai Public Land Trust, Maui Coastal Land Trust, Ke ʻAupuni Lokahi, Inc.) to preserve some of Hawaii’s most valuable cultural, natural, and historical resources.
“The biggest challenge for the program is there are more projects than can be funded in any given year,” explains Schmidt. “For example, in 2008 we have over $11 million in requested funds and only $4.7 million to award. It would be great to see more funding available in the future.”
Since joining the LLCP two years ago, Schmidt describes her job as being a “jack of all trades.” “It helps to have knowledge of conservation and the geography and resources from the diverse projects on all of the islands.” As part of her tasks, Schmidt aids state and county agencies and non-profit organizations with the grant application and award processes. As Schmidt summarized it, “I assist the different parts of the Legacy Land program — the Commission, the applicants, the award recipients — through a process in hopes of helping the State deliver funding to successful conservation projects.”