In wilderness is the preservation of the world.
-Henry David Thoreau
Non-native plants and wild pigs aren’t the only invasive species threatening the delicate ecosystem and watershed of West Maui’s Kahakaloa Natural Area Reserve System (NARS). Careless human explorers are blazing trails through this pristine wilderness area’s ridges and valleys.
“We are concerned that unchecked and uncontrolled human presence and trail formation will jeopardize the watershed area and damage the ecosystem,” said John Cumming, district manager for the Department of Land and Natural Resource (DLNR) Forestry and Wildlife division. “This is no place for the adventurous to be encroaching, tromping around and disturbing the fragile environment.”
Set up to protect the best remaining examples of native ecosystems and geological sites on state-managed lands, NARS protect entire ecosystems as opposed to just a single species. The reason stems from the fact that individual species have difficulty surviving when parts of its habitat are destroyed.
Located within the Kahakuloa Ahupu’a (land division), the NARS includes native communities of endangered plants and forest bird habitat. The Reserve also protects major watershed areas that provide fresh water to people living at the base of the mountains.
Bruce Turnbull, a sculptor, teacher and 36-year resident of Kahakaloa, is alarmed by these new trails being cut into the mountainside. He’s noticing new ones traversing next to his community’s watershed and into the NARS area.
“The frequency of use on these newly cut trails is evident,” Bruce told me as he pointed out the cut tree branches and trampled ferns revealing bare earth during a recent hike through the area. “The heavy foot traffic is not allowing nature the time it needs to repair itself.”
As one of the caretakers of the water catchment system leased to Kahaklaoa rancher Buddy Nobriga, Turnbull hikes into the forest once a month as part of his job maintaining the intake. Lately, he’s had to help lost hikers stumbling within the forest area. He said he often sees groups of hikers gather in the upper pools of the Makamakaole River. He’s anxiously watching these trails grow wider.
It’s clear why so many people are heading up there. The kehau (mist) dancing along the mountain ridges and valleys gives a feeling of Jurassic Park adventure. Yellow and red flowers on native ‘Ohia trees, wild orchids and native ferns sparkle through the dewdrops. The silence is only broken by the songs of birds. Walking into the region is like stepping back in time.
Turnbull worries the increase in human traffic will not only cause erosion and sediment into the streams and water catchments, but also introduce invasive species’ into the native ecosystem.
DLNR’s John Cunning is worried, too. The state established NARS to protect one of Maui’s rare and extremely sensitive native forests. “With every entry into these sensitive areas comes the threat that a new unwanted weed may be introduced, or a rare and endangered plant may be unknowingly destroyed,” he said.
Turnbull feels that would-be adventurers looking for exciting new spots to explore will continue to blaze paths into the wilderness. And since this NARS is land-locked and surrounded by private property—by the Boy Scout Camp, “Camp Maluhia” and Maluhia Estates—the only way to access it is to get permission or trespass.
Most, it seems, are opting for the latter. In fact, Boy Scout Executive Robert Fawcett said he’s frustrated by hikers ignoring their “No Trespass” signs that lead onto the Boy Scout property from the highway.
“People just keep cutting and pulling back the fence to access the area,” he said.
Turnbull added that he’s watched groups of people entering through a hole cut in the fence. After crossing over the Boy Scout camp land, just outside the camp boundary, they climb ropes that have been tied in the trees to allow access to the ridges and access the forest area.
“Removing these ropes is one way to help stop the illegal activity and encroachment,” said Turnbull. “People are in exploration mode now. This needs to stop before the activity snowballs. We need to take the steps to protect this rare ecosystem before it’s too late.” MTW