Funding for ohia fight

  • Healthy and dead ohia trees are pictured in this aerial photo of a portion of the Kapapala Forest Reserve outside Volcano.

    UH-HILO SPATIAL DATA ANALYSIS AND VISUALIZATION LAB/Courtesy photo

HILO — The fight against rapid ohia death is receiving a boost in funding.

Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday that he released $1.264 million to hire more staff, increase public outreach and conduct additional aerial surveys and research, all to help combat the fungal disease’s spread.

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Funding is released for fiscal year 2018. It was appropriated in the 2017 budget.

Ige said the funding is “focused on a Hawaii Island-based response.” ROD, caused by the fungus Ceratocystis, has affected more than 75,000 acres of endemic ‘ohia trees on the island and killed more than 200,000 ‘ohia trees between 2015 and 2016.

The disease also is now islandwide as of September, when it was detected on a private ranch in North Kohala. It has not spread to any other islands in the state yet, but researchers are worried it could potentially be carried by wind to Maui.

Maui is only 40 miles from the latest Kohala detection site. The Kohala site is just 33 miles from the nearest infested site previously found.

Corie Yanger, outreach and education specialist for the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, said Wednesday that researchers have been “actively trying to reach out to that Kohala community” through local media and by arranging talk-story sessions and presentations.

She said Maui’s ROD working group also has been “keeping a close eye on the forest out on the east side” and is regularly checking specific trees.

The latest allotment of state funding also will be used to conduct aerial surveys on Maui and Hawaii Island.

Surveys will complement earlier, privately funded surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017.

They will be flown this month using “cutting-edge spectroscopy and LiDAR technologies,” according to a Wednesday news release. The state is contracting with the Carnegie Airborne Observatory to conduct the surveys.

Other projects funded by the latest allotment include:

• Hiring a full-time laboratory technician to “increase capacity for diagnostics and ROD research and continue preliminary genetic resistance work.” The technician will have an advanced degree in plant pathology.

• Hiring a full-time data management specialist to manage project data being stored in a state Department of Land and Natural Resources-hosted, geo-spatial database. The database is accessible to all project partners and includes data from aerial surveys, ground surveys and laboratory results.

• Increasing public outreach on the Big Island, including radio and television public service announcements and community-sponsored events.

• Contracting with a forest pathology expert who has experience in Ceratocystis diseases to conduct research and advise DLNR about their management.

• Supporting existing project staff and continue current research that would otherwise run out of funding before the end of fiscal year 2018.

• Contracting for helicopter service to conduct quarterly surveys and transport crews to sites for survey and management.

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• Purchasing supplies and equipment such as chain saws for the on-the-ground team.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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