The Senate Water, Land and Agricultural committee recently toured Hawaii Island to learn about ongoing efforts relating to watershed forest protection, rare species restoration, and timber management. Our guides were resource experts from the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and Natural Area Reserves System (NARS) who do an incredible amount of good work with minimal funding.
The tour began in the Waiakea Timber Management Area (WTMA), an area of approximately 11,000 acres that were planted in various non-native trees some decades ago. The Forestry Division is updating its management plan and seeking new contractors to harvest wood products. Operating within the WTMA is the Upper Waiakea ATV / Dirt Bike Park, a very popular recreational facility with three trails, the longest being 16 miles long.
Further up the southern slope of Mauna Loa is Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve. Our committee visited project sites that will provide valuable firefighting capability for thousands of acres of clear cut forest now covered by quick burning grasses. Fortunately, better land management is helping restore the forest and native wildlife. At that elevation, between 3000-6000 feet above sea level, the forest absorbs as much moisture from fog as is delivered by rain. This demonstrates the value of healthy native forests in land management and watershed protection. It is said “the rain follows the forest.”
Over in the Hilo Forest Reserve, a sanctuary was established for the release of hundreds of nene translocated from Lihue Airport and other parts of the state. Nene like short grass. To reduce the danger to birds and humans, nene living near airports and roadways are captured and brought here. Along a nearby valley, another forest protection project is the installation of fencing to control damage from feral cattle, pigs and other hooved animals.
The Natural Area Reserves System consists of 21 reserves on five islands and encompasses nearly 124,000 acres of our state’s most unique ecosystems that protect rare and endangered plants and animals, and vital sources of fresh water. Our 55 State Forest Reserves cover 676,000 acres on five islands.
All four of Oahu’s Natural Area Reserves are within our district. The Kaena Point reserve protects coastal dry shrub lands and rare coastal plants. It is also a nesting area for the Laysan albatross and is regularly visited by Hawaiian monk seals. Kaluanui, in the Koolau Range, preserves unique lowland forests and one of the few streams on Oahu unaltered by humans and prime habitat for all five of Hawaii’s native freshwater fish species. The fog-shrouded reserve of Mount Kaala contains some of the rarest plants in Hawaii. The Pahole reserve encompasses a complex valley system in the northern Waianae Mountains between Peacock Flats and Mt. Kaala.