Aerial imaging and other new technologies are changing the character of conservation in Hawai‘i— improving effectiveness while cutting costs.
“Conservation is traditionally boots-and-shovels work, but increasingly, the challenges demand much greater impact with fewer dollars, and we are using technology to accomplish that,” said Suzanne Case, director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i.
The Conservancy is a leading innovator in conservation technology, having developed and implemented several cutting-edge techniques in forest conservation. It is now poised to expand the role of these high-tech methods, with the help of a $1.1 million three-year grant from the Joseph & Vera Long Foundation.
“We are developing, using and sharing critical technologies with the potential to revolutionize forest conservation in Hawai‘i and beyond,” Case said. The organization has also developed plans for sharing its advances with land managers across the state.
The Conservancy’s overall goal is to protect the state’s native watershed forests from invasive weeds and animals. It will use the Joseph & Vera Long Foundation grant to address three key objectives: the mapping of invasive weeds, the control of those weeds, and sharing conservation data and techniques.
Four specific areas of work are planned under the grant:
• Doubling the resolution of aerial imaging technologies for forest weeds, which will allow the identification of even small-leafed weed species. The Conservancy will work with Resource Mapping Hawai‘i to develop new technologies to map 20,000 acres of forest land across the state. “It’s a real game-changer for managing forests, and an even bigger game-changer for monitoring forests over time—detecting large-scale changes over long time periods,” said Trae Menard, the Conservancy’s Director of Forest Conservation.
• Developing special low-toxicity herbicides and pinpoint-accurate helicopter-mounted application techniques, which will allow crews to go directly to individual weeds identified by the digital mapping system and to spot-treat them without impacting surrounding plants. One concept, developed by University of Hawai‘i scientist Dr. James Leary, uses a compressed-air gun loaded with herbicide-filled paintballs that can target specific plants without overspraying. An early target: more than 5,000 individual Australian tree fern plants that are invading Kauai’s native forests.
• Developing a robust web portal that will allow land managers across the state to access the most up-to-date and best available conservation data as it happens. Much of that data exists, but is inaccessible, locked in individual hard drives in data repositories around the state. With support from the Long Foundation and the Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s Island Innovation Fund, the Conservancy will provide “real-time access to the best available information for protecting Hawaii’s native forests,” said Jason Sumiye, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i Director of Landscape Science.
• Spreading the word. A key goal for the Conservancy is to share the results of its work with other land stewards and conservation managers. The Conservancy will publish articles on its work, and help train others in the new technologies it is using. Quarterly forums will bring together leaders in conservation innovation, to help incubate new ideas and help partners to adapt new technologies to their own applications. Already, some of the Conservancy’s early aerial mapping technology is being used by state conservation agencies and private landowners.
The $1.1 million grant is the Joseph & Vera Long Foundation’s first major gift to The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. The foundation, established in January 2011 by the merger of the J.M. Long Foundation and the Vera M. Long Foundation, funds conservation, education and health care in northern California and Hawai‘i.
“We are pleased to support The Nature Conservancy and its efforts to protect Hawaii’s native forests. These forests supply the fresh, clean water on which Hawaii’s people depend, and are biological treasures vital to preserving the islands’ natural and cultural heritage,” said Nick Piediscalzi, Joseph & Vera Long Foundation trustee.
“This grant makes meaningful conservation possible and will dramatically increase the scale and effectiveness of our statewide efforts to protect Hawaii’s native forests,” said Case.
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.