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Growing Waikamoi

A mile high, in the dense native rainforest of windward Haleakalā, is a treasure chest of native wildlife that few have ever seen. It is so remote that no roads and few trails lead there and, primarily for that reason, it is one of the gems of the native Hawaiian forest.    

That gem will be protected in perpetuity under a new agreement between The Nature Conservancy and the landowner— East Maui Irrigation Company, Limited (EMI), a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin.

This past April, EMI sold a conservation easement to the Conservancy after a complex negotiation. The conservation easement was valued at $190,000. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Land Acquisition Program through the State Department of Land and Natural Resources funded up to 75% of the acquisition costs. A&B allowed the Conservancy to purchase the easement for $142,500, donating the required 25% in matching private funds, or $47,500 worth of value. 

The Conservancy will preserve this remote and largely pristine 3,721-acre natural rainforest, high on the eastern slopes of Haleakalā.  The parcel borders the Conservancy’s existing 5,230-acre Waikamoi Preserve. Joined together they create the largest private nature reserve in the state—nearly 9,000 acres of rainforest under conservation management. 

“This parcel lies at the core of the East Maui watershed and is one of the most intact pieces of native forest in the state. We have been working on this for 25 years,” said Mark White, director of the Conservancy’s Maui Nui Program.

The forested site remains largely untouched by humans. It is home to 20 threatened or endangered native plants, and two exceedingly rare native forest birds: the ʻakohekohe, or crested honeycreeper; and the kiwikiu, or Maui parrotbill.

“We hope to find additional treasures as we explore the area further,” said Jody Kaulukukui, director of land protection for the Conservancy. “This area has been one of the Nature Conservancy’s highest priorities for more than two decades.”

The land falls within the 100,000-acre East Maui Watershed. The lower points on the property are from 3,600 to 4,500 feet elevation, and it continues up to 9,500 feet above sea level.

“Because of its high elevation, it is in remarkably good condition, and it was a natural fit, because of the common boundary with our Waikamoi Preserve,” Kaulukukui said.

“For over 140 years EMI has been protecting these lands. This gives us an opportunity to partner with The Nature Conservancy, which has the capacity to do enhanced stewardship,” said Garret Hew, EMI president.  

The additional attention is needed since, despite its extreme isolation, the land is threatened by invasive plants and animals

“It is so remote, it can take all day for our staff to hike in,” White said. But at the fringes of the rugged terrain, alien incursions have been detected from feral pigs and cattle and invasive plants like strawberry guava, pampas grass and Himalayan ginger.

Controlling those threats will create safe new habitat for the ʻakohekoe and kiwikiu, birds whose once-declining populations have stabilized in the original Waikamoi Preserve.  They will now have new protected forest into which they can expand.

The first conservation move is to establish a three-mile, $600,000 fence to block pig and cattle access on EMI land. One mile of fence has already been constructed, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Health and Maui County Department of Water Supply.

“The fence protects a 12,000 acre core area that includes the majority of Waikamoi and the EMI piece,” White said. “It’s going to be managed, which will help stop the degradation that is starting to occur.”

Since 1991, EMI has participated in the conservation of over 100,000 acres as part of the East Maui Watershed Partnership. The other partners include The Nature Conservancy, Haleakala Ranch, Hana Ranch Partners, Haleakala National Park, the Maui Department of Water Supply and the State Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Suzanne Case, the Conservancy Hawaiʻi executive director, said the EMI conservation easement was the result of great teamwork, bringing together the federal government, the state, the landowners and the Conservancy. “It took a long time to pull it together, but this area lies at the heart of the East Maui watershed, and native forest just doesn’t get any better,” she said.

 

 

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