A groundbreaking agreement between The Nature Conservancy and Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods aims to restore Hawaii’s dwindling koa forests and benefit other native forests across the state.
Koa, considered by some the “mother tree” of the Hawaiian forest, as well as one of the world’s most valuable tropical hardwoods, has been severely depleted by feral cattle, land clearing, invasive pests and unsustainable harvesting.
“Over time, the loss and removal of this monarch tree, with no replanting, has diminished our koa forests and the quality of other native forests,” said Suzanne Case, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i executive director. “This partnership seeks to address both of those concerns.”
Founded in 2008, Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods has been implementing an aggressive program of replanting koa on hundreds of acres of land that was once a koa-dominated forest. The reforestation project was launched at the Big Island’s Kūka‘iau Ranch, on the northeast slopes of Mauna Kea, and may be expanded to other areas and islands. Owned by David and Josephine DeLuz, the ranch was once the personal property of King Kamehameha I.
Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods CEO Jeff Dunster said the company operates on both a conservation model and a commercial one. Donors can participate in a Legacy Tree program, which stipulates that the trees are never harvested and become part of a new, permanent Hawaiian forest. Participants in the Forest Investment program finance the planting of trees that will eventually be logged, providing a return on their investment.
The Nature Conservancy is participating in the Legacy Tree component, in which participants pay $60 for each tree planted. Of that sum, $1 goes to The Nature Conservancy, and $20 to the charity of the donor's choice. If no charity is designated, this contribution also goes to The Nature Conservancy. Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods has promised The Nature Conservancy a $50,000 minimum contribution annually, beginning this year..
With each planted tree, a scannable electronic chip is placed in the ground. The chip contains the serial number of the tree and is linked with its GPS coordinates in a database along with information on when it was planted, the name of the donor, and the name of the individual the tree was planted to honor.
All money donated to The Nature Conservancy will be used to preserve existing native forests. “It’s a partnership that will create new koa forests and preserve existing native forests,” said John Henshaw, the Conservancy’s director of Land Protection and Conservation Partnerships.
Added Dunster: “You're not just growing a tree, you’re helping to grow an entire forest.”
Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods’ forestry programs have been warmly received. One participant, the Four Seasons Resort Hualālai, has signed up for the planting of 500,000 legacy koa trees in conjunction with their 50th anniversary. Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods also has partnerships with the Boy Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Martin and MacArthur, Hagadone Printing and others.
The hardwood company is entering its third season of active planting (planting is done during the wet months). The firm hand selects seeds from old growth koa trees that reside on the property, raises them in their own nursery and outplants the seedlings when the conditions are right. Its crews planted some 20,000 trees on 40 acres in its first year, and 35,000 trees on 84 acres in its second. This winter season it expects to plant 150,000 koa trees on 322 acres, and another 300,000 trees during the 2012-2013 season.
On some legacy forest lands, Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods is planting other native forest species, including māmane, naio, ‘ōhi‘a and ‘iliahi or sandalwood.
The koa tree, Acacia koa, is native to the Hawaiian Islands. It provided ancient Hawaiians with timber for building canoes, spears, bowls, construction materials and even fishhooks. Along with ‘ōhi‘a, it is one of the signature trees of the Hawaiian forest, with a broad canopy that provides a rich, protected zone for understory plants.
“As a dominant canopy tree, koa can form the framework for biological restoration,” said Sam ‘Ohu Gon III, the Conservancy’s Senior Scientist and Cultural Advisor.
Added Henshaw: “Once we get the koa forest re-established, it becomes the nursery for other species. We have found elsewhere that if we can get the koa forest back, other natives reappear, including some of the native bird species.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.