The Erdman family and its ‘Ulupalakua Ranch will honor the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service on Tuesday, July 25, according to a July 21 announcement from the restoration project. Restoration officials say they will recognize more than two decades of public-minded native forest restoration and protection at Auwahi.
‘Ulupalakua Ranch may be best known for its store, winery, stands of enormous planted trees, cowboys and ranch activities, but it’s notable that the native ecosystems of the ranch have been compared to that of a National Park. The native forests of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch, in the ‘ahupua`a of Auwahi, are noted in early botanical literature as among the richest and most diverse forests in the Hawaiian Islands. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Auwahi and forests like it were wahi pana, invaluable as source sites for a wide variety of native fibers, dyes and woods, each species used for a specific purpose.
Auwahi and all southern Haleakala forests have declined precipitously because of the impacts of feral animals, fire and invasive plant species; less than 2.5 percent of the original forest remains.
“In the 1980s, the rapidly declining forests of Auwahi were generally regarded as a tragedy among Hawaiian biologists,” stated a July 21 news release from the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project. “One report called Auwahi a ‘museum forest’, similar to a museum in its value, but also like a museum, only older senescent trees were left without successful reproduction for centuries.”
Then in 1997, ‘Ulupalakua Ranch partnering with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service began one of the first and most ambitious large scale forest restoration projects in the State. A new restoration technique was developed utilizing the timed planting of native “nurse” plants intended to rebuild forest understory around the trees and reduce herbicide usage. The technique was successful, increasing native species cover in restoration areas from three percent to 82 percent. Today, two-thirds of native tree species at Auwahi are producing seedlings naturally–including some species that had not done so in centuries.
Since 1997, the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project and community volunteer restoration trips have planted more than 125,000 native trees. Through the years, more than 1,600 Maui residents including students, educators, ranchers, policy makers, scientists, canoe paddlers, artists, and photographers have volunteered more than 37,000 hours towards restoration efforts.
As a result of the community minded dedication of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch at Auwahi, Hawaiian dry forests have gone from a poster child of ecological failure to a poster child of community-based restoration; projects of this type are rare and to have one on private ranch lands is virtually unprecedented. The Ranch has been critical in preservation of Hawaiian dry forests and in doing so has made a significant contribution towards the protection of the country’s natural resources.
“In over two decades of working on the Auwahi project, `Ulupalakua Ranch has never requested publicity of any type but instead served largely as a silent and enthusiastic partner,” said Auwahi project founder Dr. Art Medeiros. “In all my years in conservation, I have never seen another for-profit group act in this way.”
In addition to `Ulupalakua Ranch, the USFWS, and the NRCS, the Auwahi project also receives support from the Frost Family Foundation, Maui County Department of Water Supply, Hawai’i Community Foundation, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Maui County Office of Economic Development, and the Edward J Anderson Foundation.
Photo courtesy Art Medeiros