PUU WAAWAA — Nene wandered, honked and flew around the 55-acre enclosure at Puu Waawaa Forest Reserve as volunteers planted, watered, weeded, collected native seeds and created trails at the dryland forest for Monday’s Kaiser Permanente’s annual Day of Service.
Kaiser, through the Hawaii Permanente Medical Group, has been participating in the Day of Service for 11 years statewide, though Congress designated Martin Luther King Jr. a national day of service in 1994.
On Monday, over 900 volunteers performed service projects throughout the Aloha State, including over 50 physicians, family, friends and community members at the North Kona forest reserve.
For the last five years, Kaiser has partnered with Kaahahui O Ka Nahelehele to outplant and care for the native dry forest at the Department of Land and Natural Resources forest reserve located off Mamalahoa Highway.
Dr. Rick Fong said that having a day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day exemplified what the leader stood for.
“We are part of the community and want to give back and perpetuate the local culture and help reforest the dryland forest,” said Fong, a pediatrician and physician-in-charge of Kaiser Permanente’s Hawaii Island clinics. “Since we have come here it has been a good partnership and we have seen the significant changes in what the landscape looks like.”
Just five years ago, the hillside along the fence perimeter was overgrown with fountain grass. Today, a thriving ecosystem can be seen, reminiscent of pre-contact times, according to Mary Metcalf, site coordinator with Kaakahui o Ka Nahelelele.
Today, over 60 native species are planted in the reserve, including 11 threatened and endangered plants.
“They are really tranquil, beautiful plants and they survive on less than 50 inches of rain. They have adapted over the millenia to live on the dry side of the island,” she said.
Metcalf said the dry forest used to stretch from Kona to Hawi, but only about 3% of it is left that is healthy.
Based on the success evident by the thriving plants at Puu Waawaa, Monday’s endeavor and continuous planting within the perimeter is a definite start in increasing that number.
“We love the partnership with Kaiser,” said Metcalf. “They heal people and understand the importance of the health of the land and its connection to the health of the people.”
In addition to Puu Waawaa, Kaiser Permanente employees volunteered for coastal restoration, invasive plant species removal and rock gathering at Haleolono Fishpond at Kamokuna, a coastal environment located in Hilo.
Interpretive trails have been incorporated in the outplanting and community members are encouraged to enjoy and learn about the native plants, as well as volunteering at reforestation days listed on the Puu Waawaa Facebook page. School groups and community organizations are encouraged to utilize the educational resources and volunteer reforestation efforts.
“It’s just a labor of love, but the results are incredible,” said Metcalf.
For more information or volunteer opportunities, visit www.drylandforest.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.