Conservation groups and homeowners are working together to protect a checkerboard pattern of native forest canopy within the upland Kīlauea community of Volcano and its neighboring areas.
They hope to create a series of green wildlife stepping stones—a string of forested ‘islands’— that link large natural forest preserves across the summit and sides of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.
A celebration of the first conservation easements for this project is scheduled for Dec. 4, 2010, at The Volcano Art Center. Its title: The Kīpuka Mosaic Project: Protecting Volcano Area Forests Forever. The event starts at 4 p.m. and is open to the public.
The project involves The Nature Conservancy, the Hawai‘i Island Land Trust, the Volcano Community Association and a range of individuals. It uses conservation easements to ensure that residential lands in the Kīlauea area are managed to retain some of their mature ‘ōhi‘a, hāpu‘u, ‘ōlapa and other tall forest plants, as well as understory species.
“To the best of our knowledge, this project is one of the first of its kind in the nation, creating a checkerboard of forest canopy across a residential area to link conservation lands and protect native species,” said Jody Kaulukukui, an attorney and senior protection specialist with The Nature Conservancy.
Volcano lies near the boundaries of important natural forest areas, among them the Kahauale‘a Natural Area Reserve, Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve, the ‘Ōla‘a Forest Reserve and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
“Some of the landowners in that area were very interested in protecting the canopy and preserving a flyway for native birds,” said Doug Sensenig, director of the land trust. It would also provide a pathway for insects and other forms of native life.
The Nature Conservancy helped provide seed money, mapping and facilitation for the project. Conservancy Executive Director Suzanne Case, who played in the Volcano forests as a child and still returns there today, said she was introduced to the Kīpuka Mosaic concept on an inter-island flight by Rick Warshauer, a Volcano resident and botanist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
“This is an incredible community effort. Volcano is full of conservationists. They love their forest. And this was an example of how The Nature Conservancy can play a supporting role in a community initiative,” she said.
The watershed partnership known as the Three Mountain Alliance will help by doing landowner training on invasive species issues. And the Hawai‘i Island Land Trust will negotiate and hold the conservation easements.
The idea of protecting forest within the residential community developed after some area landowners grew concerned when their neighbors began clearing lots “pin to pin,” leaving virtually no native forest cover.
Native birds and other species appear to be restricted in their ability to move between such areas if they are faced with cleared land. “Birds require areas in a stepping-stone pattern of trees and shrubbery for them to rest in as they move,” Sensenig said.
The first conservation easement under the Kīpuka Mosaic Project was signed by Dan Taylor, a retired national park natural resource manager. He committed 3 acres of his 3.5-acre property at Volcano to remain in native forest.
“This was the right thing to do. Volcano is a very unusual community, almost surrounded by protected areas,” Taylor said.
Conservancy Director of Land Protection John Henshaw said the concept is admittedly a new one. “The question we are trying to answer is, ‘Can a community create connectivity through conservation easements on residential properties.’ That’s the test. We are trying to make that happen,” he said.
Two such easements have already been signed and four more are in the works. The first was Taylor’s. The second easement is on land donated by the estate of Gordon Thomas Salter to The Nature Conservancy. In that case, the Conservancy placed the conservation easement on the land, then sold the property subject to that easement, and donated $25,000 from the sale proceeds to provide startup funding for the Kīpuka Mosaic program.
The Salter property contains a number of non-native species, but also has a healthy grown of natives, including mature canopy species like ‘ōhi’a, hāpu‘u, ‘ōlapa, koa, kāwa‘u and kōlea lau nui, and the lower growth of ‘ama‘u, pilo, ‘uki’uki, ‘ōhelo, uluhe and others. Among the native birds seen or believed to use the area are the ‘apapane, ‘ōma‘o, ‘amakihi, ‘io and ‘elepaio.
The goal of the Kīpuka Mosaic Project is to use the system of conservation easements to create a network of natural pathways that will link the large protected forest lands.
Said Warshauer, who came up with the concept: “This project has the potential to maintain the forest cover across the greater community of Volcano, which would allow the ecological linkage to remain between Mauna Loa and Kīlauea volcanoes on State and National Park protected areas. Future development of the intervening Volcano community threatens to cut this vital linkage.”
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.