People said we were crazy,” recalled Caleb Kahele at a presentation earlier this month at the Tavares Community Center. Kahele was one of nine Americorps volunteers who pitched in to restore an endemic leeward forest on Haleakala, an effort that was spearheaded by Dr. Art Medeiros.
Medieros said he began wondering almost a decade ago if there was any hope for the wao akua, the “god forests.” As the handpicked volunteers gave presentations about their eight-week internships, it became clear the answer is “yes.” As the restoration progressed, Medieros says he realized that, even as people were saving the forest, “the forest [was] saving the people.”
Self-selected topics ranged from the dry forest in the “Before Time” (Hawaiian ancestors), “discovery” by Capt. Cook, the degradation of the forest and extinction of endemic species by way of invasive flora and fauna.
“In the past, infrequent flora and fauna colonizers [plants and animals] arrived once every 30,000-50,000 years,” said Medeiros. “New invasive species now arrive on average once every five days.” As a result of these invasions, Hawaii has lost many of its endemic species, with Kula having the dubious distinction of being the “epicenter of extinction,” according to Medeiros. Hawaii has about 95 percent endemism, which means that our species are found nowhere else on earth.
Medeiros praised the Erdman family and Ulupalakua Ranch for their community spirit in allowing and encouraging the restoration of native forest on what was formerly ranch land for cattle.
Americorps intern Nikki Raleigh described how the dry land forest, which once spread from Kaupo to Makawao, was choked out by Kikuyu grass from Africa that was introduced as cattle forage. Kikuyu grass forms thick, impenetrable mats below the endemic trees, making seed dispersal and natural growth impossible.
Raleigh related how she and her cohorts pulled the grass, sprayed herbicide and let the area sit for one month before planting the seeds that had been stored in a seed bank. Keiki seedlings raised in nurseries were also transplanted. “Once the seeds were planted, the forest knew what to do” said Raleigh. Raleigh also expressed what was to become a refrain for the evening: the spiritual connection she felt with the plants and the emerging forest.
Kahele described the uses of native bird feathers for the adornment of ali‘i (royalty), and the ingenuity of the artisans who gathered the feathers from birds that were attracted to the flowers of specific native trees. Tragically for endemic birds, the European boar, which interbred with the Polynesian wild pig after its introduction, ripped up the forest floor and made wattles that bred mosquitoes (also invasive). In turn, the mosquitos attacked the birds, which had no immunity to insect-borne diseases such as avian malaria. “Because our forest is dying, [featherworking] is a dying art,” said Kahele.
Kalehua Muniz’s talk concluded with a succinct solution: “stricter import laws.” Hawaiian native plants—taro, sweet potato, breadfruit—can be sustainably grown and harvested, minimizing the need for imported food crops, he said.
“I’m not Hawaiian, but Hawaii is my home, and I love my home,” said Logan Anderson. “We are soldiers fighting for this forest. The cycle of transformation is real and possible.”
Anderson explained the meaning of the word auwahi–humble persons. “Once we help the trees, they thrive on their own.” Maui Time Weekly, Kolea Schonwalter
For information about volunteering, contact Andrea Buchman:email@example.com