Groups help make Earth Day everyday

  • Dr. Richard Stevens leads a group of students and community tree lovers to plant koa and hoawa on Earth Day last Sunday in the ‘O’oma Forest Reserve adjacent to the Kaloko Mauka agricultural subdivision. (Photo courtesy / Voltaire Moise)

Earth Day is a reminder of all the great environmental groups on the island that work hard the year round to make this a better and greener world.

For example, Dr. Richard Stevens has been instrumental in coordinating the efforts of the UH Center at West Hawaii to keep the ‘O’oma Reforestation Project alive since its inception in 2001. Hundreds of koa and other native trees supplied by the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife have been planted by UH West Hawaii students, community allies, families and friends.

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“With the new UH Palamanui mauka of the airport, we are aware that our plantings in the 1,250 acre ‘O’oma forest are crucial to the health of Kona’s watershed,” Stevens said.

This ongoing project will be a field study laboratory for today’s community and generations to come. If you want to learn more about the importance of our forests and the benefits they have on our peace of mind, you may get involved with this project by contacting Stevens at the Palamanui campus, 969-8802.

Global warming is no longer a theory and is being accepted as fact by most scientists and governments. This will affect our islands by causing more extremes like drought, floods and severe storms. We may not be able to do much about other parts of the world, but here at home we as individuals are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Just think. If each one of us on the Big Island planted only 10 trees this year, we will have planted over 1 million!

Trees not only produce oxygen, they supply shade, act as windbreaks and lock up the carbon that is the main cause of global warming.

Many of Hawaii’s forests and forest watersheds are threatened. Not much can be done to stop foreign governments from forest destruction, but we can do a lot to protect and plant forests here.

In East Hawaii, many ohia forest areas are subdivided into small lots of 1 to 3 acres. Unless the owners of the land really commit to protecting the forested lots, they are bulldozed and flattened. In West Hawaii, the same situation occurs with private lands being subdivided and cleared. One exception is the 2,000-acre Kaloko Mauka subdivision adjacent to the ‘O’oma Forest Reserve.

This is one of the most accessible native forests in West Hawaii. It, among other high elevation areas of Hawaii, is being developed for agriculture and residential activities. However, county planners are making an effort to encourage developers and landowners to protect the forest by placing requirements that the lots remain in forest. The county is also requiring a forest management plan and is allowing owners to dedicate to native forest or tree crops, thus reducing the tax burden. Information on how to apply for agriculture and conservation dedications may be obtained from the Hawaii County Tax Office.

Much of Kaloko Mauka is still covered with native forest and is unique cloud forest. Although it is sparsely populated, the gardens of residents are a fascinating mixture of hydrangeas, hoawa, calatheas, camellias, koa and kopiko. The area abounds with ancient ohia (meterosideros polymorpha) and gigantic treeferns, some of which are 30 feet or more in height. These ferns may be over 100 years old since the trunks only grow 2 to 3 inches per year. The native forest contains many rare and endangered species that local residents are committed to protect through the Hawaii Forest Stewardship and Hawaii Land Trust programs. These programs allow residents to dedicate and manage their properties to enhance this important and unique watershed. They are administered through the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Forestry Division and Hawaii Island Land Trust.

In the heart of the subdivision, the 70-acre Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary has been set aside for protecting native forests. Approximately 15 acres that were previously pasture have been reforested with native and non-native species supplied by the forestry service, nurseries and plant societies for testing such as palms, treeferns, bamboos, tropical rhododendrons, orchids and other plant materials. Observations are being made as to their adaptability for reforestation, agricultural and landscape use. Even though most of the sanctuary is preserved in native forest, upper portion is now reforested as a montane tropical forest and includes koa, ohia and conifers from the high tropics like New Zealand and New Caledonia. Even California redwoods and Southeast loblolly pines are grown successfully.

Kaloko Mauka is the home of the Hawaiian hawk, apapane, iiwi, elepaio, amakihi and many other endemic and exotic birds. Kaloko Mauka has been identified as essential wildlife habitat and forest watershed. It is the goal of residents of Kaloko Mauka to set an example that they can live in harmony with the forest and still have homes and some “forest friendly” agriculture activities. This is essential if our island is to have the rainfall and watershed needed to supply communities at lower elevations.

Tropical forests include not only trees but under story palms, bromeliads, orchids, ferns and bamboos. Many palms worldwide are endangered due to the destruction of rainforests. Fortunately, Hawaii is becoming a kind of Noah’s Ark thanks to the efforts of the Hawaii Island Palm Society, Bamboo Society, Orchid Societies, Rhododendron Society and other concerned groups.

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Not only is it vital to protect our remaining Hawaiian forests, but to reforest those abandoned cane lands of Hamakua, Puna, Ka’u and Kohala with biodiverse forests thus ensuring valuable resources for future generations. This is especially critical as we are losing our ohia forests due to a fungus killing trees in many areas of the Big Island.

Information on forest planting and management, please contact UH Extention Forester, J.B. Friday at 959-8254 or jbfriday@hawaii.edu.