Archeological evidence suggests that Hawaiians came to Kaho‘olawe as early as 400 A.D., settling in small fishing villages along the island’s coast. To date, nearly 3,000 archeological and historical sites and features—inventoried through 2004—paint a picture of Kaho‘olawe as a navigational center for voyaging, the site of an adze quarry, an agricultural center, and a site for religious and cultural ceremonies. Traditionally, the island has been revered as a wahi pana and a pu‘uhonua.
As modern times rolled in, Kaho‘olawe underwent a harsh evolution. It would be used briefly as a penal colony, for sheep and cattle ranching, and eventually transferred to the U.S. Navy for use as a bombing range. Litigation forced an end to the bombing in 1990 and the island was placed under the administration of the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC). Following a 10-year period of ordnance removal, control of access to Kaho‘olawe was transferred to the State of Hawai‘i in 2003. Today, the KIRC is responsible for the restoration and sustainable management of the island until it can be transferred to a Native Hawaiian entity to manage.
Goats are introduced to Kaho‘olawe, a gift from Captain Vancouver to Chief Kahekili of Maui.
As early as 1832, adult men are sent to a penal colony on Kaho‘olawe for various offenses. Headquarters for the penal colony is located at Kaulana Bay. In 1853, the law establishing Kaho‘olawe as a penal colony is repealed.
In 1858, the Hawaiian government issues the first of many ranch leases for the island. Throughout the ranching period, the uncontrolled grazing of cattle, sheep, and goats has a serious impact on the environment of the island resulting in substantial loss of soil through accelerated erosion. By the late 1890s, there are 900 cattle and 15,000 sheep on the island.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declares martial law, which leads to the use of Kaho‘olawe as a bombing range.
The goat population on Kaho‘olawe reaches about 50,000.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower transfers title of Kaho‘olawe to the U.S. Navy with the provision that it be returned in a condition for “suitable habitation” when no longer needed by the military.
Members of Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) begin a series of occupations of the island in an effort to halt bombing. The PKO also files suit in Federal District Court to enjoin the Navy’s bombing activities. In 1977, the Federal District Court orders a partial summary judgment requiring the Navy to conduct an environmental impact statement and supply an inventory of, and protect, the historic sites on the island.
A consent decree is signed between the U.S. Navy and the PKO, which results in a Memorandum of Understanding requiring the Navy to begin soil conservation, revegetation, and goat eradication programs.
Kaho‘olawe is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated the Kaho‘olawe Archaeological District.
As a result of PKO actions and litigation, President George Bush Sr. orders a stop to the bombing of Kaho‘olawe.
Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawai‘i) sponsors Title X of the 1994 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which authorizes conveyance of Kaho‘olawe and its surrounding waters back to the State of Hawai‘i. Congress votes to end military use of Kaho‘olawe and authorizes $400 million for ordnance removal.
U.S. Navy conveys deed of ownership of Kaho‘olawe to the State of Hawai‘i. The Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission is established to manage activities on the island.
U.S. Navy awards contracts for the removal of unexploded ordnance on Kaho‘olawe.
Transfer of access control is returned from the U.S. Navy to the State of Hawai‘i in a ceremony at ‘Iolani Palace on November 11, 2003.
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US Navy ends the Kahoʻolawe UXO Clearance Project. At its completion approximately 75% of the island was surfaced cleared of unexploded ordnance. Of this area, 10% of the island or 2,647 acres were additionally cleared to the depth of four-feet. 25% or 6,692 acres were not cleared and unescorted access to these areas remains unsafe.