Bezona column: West Hawaii a Noah’s Ark of rainforest life

  • The rainbow eucalyptus, originally from the Philippines, was introduced to Hawaii by the forestry service. It may reach heights of 150 feet and more. Not for the small garden, but it is well suited for reforestation. (Courtesy photo/Voltaire Moise)

The painted eucalyptus, eucalyptus deglupta, sometimes called rainbow eucalyptus or camouflage tree is a sight to behold.

Thanks to Kelly Dunn and his Painted Trees of Hawaii, these beautiful trees are being protected on our island. Of over 500 species of eucalyptus, this is the only one found growing naturally north of the equator. It is native to the rainforests of the Philippines, Indonesia and New Guinea. It is related to ohia so the flowers also attract our native honeycreepers.

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The Painted Trees of Hawaii is an educational nonprofit foundation. Mr. Dunn, CEO-president, resides in the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. Dunn started the nonprofit foundation to create awareness of the trees through lectures, events and daily tours at the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. The mission of the foundation is to create awareness about the eucalyptus deglupta and natural world.

The foundation has an active board of directors who are involved with the forest, community events and online activities. Recently, Trip Advisor has awarded the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary with their, “2019 Certificate of Excellence” award.

Kelly Dunn and the Painted Trees of Hawaii Foundation reside in the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. The foundation helps maintain the forest through many of its volunteers and community service workers. If you and your group wish to volunteer please contact the foundation. All tours are by phone appointment only. Please call (808) 640-3888 for tours and volunteering. Check out the website at: PaintedTreesOfHawaii.Org.

Tour guests will receive a charitable contribution letter by email for their tax records. The foundation helps maintain the forest through many of its volunteers and community service workers. If you and your group wish to volunteer please contact the foundation.

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, plant 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. Scientists have shown that approximately 25% of the carbon dioxide is sequestered by forests each year, so the more forests we plant the more we reduce the effects 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 suffering from the fungus disease referred to as rapid ohia death. Other forested areas are being lost to expanding urbanization. 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 Ooma 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. 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, Hawaii Island Land Trust and Moku O Keawe Land Conservancy.

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, Kau 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.

For further information on forest planting and management, please contact UH Extention Forester, J.B. Friday at (808)959-8254 or jbfriday@hawaii.edu.

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