Stewards of Our Island Home
Meet four extraordinary women who are taking on some of the toughest issues facing conservation today — from coral bleaching and Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death to the swift tide of invasive species entering Hawai‘i. Threatening and urgent issues like these are part of the reason they have dedicated their lives to the protection and preservation of Hawai‘i’s natural lands and waters. The other part is their love and deep respect for the natural world, instilled at a young age by their parents. They also praise Punahou for encouraging public service, and fostering a lifetime of moral and personal responsibility.
By Susan Nakamura
Just a few weeks into her newly appointed position as executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i, Ulalia Woodside is busy figuring out where the office supplies are stored and claiming victory when the security code for the front door of the Conservancy’s downtown Honolulu headquarters works. The one thing that Woodside doesn’t have to figure out is why she is there to lead Hawai‘i’s largest and highly successful nonprofit conservation organization.
A deep love and respect for nature, especially Hawai‘i’s spectacular landscape, has been in her DNA since birth. Her father, a wildlife biologist, was always pointing out birds and plants by their scientific name on their many outdoor explorations and hikes, and her Hawaiian mother, a kumu hula and cultural resource teacher, would be gathering ferns and flowers for her dancers. “It was the norm for me to be immersed in nature day in and day out. It’s only later in life that I realize how much that unique experience shaped my worldview and approach to environmental issues.”
In fact, her parents were so influential that Woodside was certain that her path in life would mirror her father’s work as a wildlife biologist, but her passions led her to the field of land and resource management after graduating from the University of Hawai‘i Political Science and Hawaiian Studies programs, and completing graduate work at the University of Hawai‘i School of Urban and Regional Planning.
Prior to joining the Conservancy, Woodside, a 14-year veteran of Kamehameha School’s Land Assets Division, was responsible for a property portfolio of 200,000 acres of agricultural and conservation lands, stewarding natural resources and restoring cultural landscapes statewide on Kamehameha School’s lands.
“I loved my work there, and now I am thrilled to be stepping up to lead the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i Program to further the mission of protecting and preserving Hawai‘i’s natural environment. I think back to my younger years when I didn’t realize my own potential. It was the concerted effort of Punahou teachers and the School to present students like me with as many opportunities as possible. That is when I realized there are no limits,” shares Woodside, who is also a kumu hula, having completed the ‘uniki rites of her family’s genealogical hula traditions.
Woodside knows she has a big job ahead of her and is ready to work hard to honor and build upon the strong legacy of achievements of those who came before her – the late Sam Cooke ’55, Duncan MacNaughton ’62, Kelvin Taketa ’72 and Suzanne Case ’74 – all tireless advocates for the Conservancy’s work and all Punahou graduates.
In her work and life, she also wants to honor the legacy of her parents, who sacrificed to provide her the privilege of a Punahou education and modeled a strong work ethic of excellence. Woodside, who continues to live on the Waimanalo property where she was first exposed to the beauty of the natural world, shares, “I have devoted my work to conservation and land management that sustains the unique environment and culture of Hawai‘i. It is a responsibility to my parents and to creating abundance for future generations.”
Susan Nakamura is a freelance writer in Hawai‘i and the mother of Ana ’20.