The Restoration Revolutionary
by Sara Tekula
On first impression, Dr. Art Medeiros—the visionary behind the popular “Auwahi” native habitat restoration project and technical advisor of the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership—appears to be extremely shy, even hermit-like. He speaks softly, prefers alone-time in the forest (which he refers to as his “church”) and is a self-proclaimed “nerd.”
The fact that this is the same man who has led over 2,800 volunteers in carefully replanting more than 180 acres of native forest is enough to make you reconsider your first impression. He’s no shrinking violet. To the contrary, Medeiros is widely known as the fearless leader of a revolution in restoration. Mention his name and you’ll hear words like “inspiration” and “rare gem.”
As a young man on Oahu, Art cultivated a love of plants and animals. When he started to focus on Hawaii’s native species, his true mission began. “As I learned the Hawaiian plants, I quickly learned that all Hawaiian plants are in trouble,” he recalls. Eventually his botany research brought him to Maui’s leeward side, where only 10 percent of the native habitat remains intact after massive deforestation wiped out rare, endemic flora and the introduction of hoofed animals kept them from returning.
He’s been working there ever since.
Inside what is known as Auwahi I, II, and III—sections of devastated land that are being rescued inside “exclosure” fences on Leeward Haleakala’s Ulupalakua Ranch—Art’s dream is slowly coming true. Over the past 10 years, Medeiros and his loyal crew have made 173 volunteer trips to Auwahi and have planted 82,323 native trees and plants. Amazingly, the fruits of their collective restoration work can be seen from outer space via Google Earth.
Even with such wild success, Medeiros remains humble, giving credit to his many kumu, staff and supporters.
“I once admitted to having some good ideas,” he says. “But good ideas don’t go anywhere without land owners like the Erdman Family [who own Ulupalakua Ranch], funders and all of our volunteers.”
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE from MauiTime‘s January 13 cover story “20 for ’11: Who Matters on Maui?” featuring twenty movers and shakers in art, food and politics who are shaping our island’s future.