Aerial view of forests and mountains on Moloka'i
From Above Moloka'i’s Kawela gulch © TNC

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Moloka‘i Forests to be Protected from Wildfires and Erosion

State receives $1.8 million National Fish and Wildlife Foundation award

Forests on the southern slopes of Moloka‘i are about to receive additional protections from threats like wildfires, erosion, and flooding thanks to a new award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

The foundation has awarded over $1.8 million to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to address threats using proven tools such as fencing and removing hoofed animals, as well as creating firebreaks.

The results will include clearer ocean waters, vibrant reefs, restored plants and trees, and fewer disruptions along the islands’ main road, Highway 450. State funding that served as a match for the grant is part of a larger Watershed Initiative that is directing an additional $2 million of State Capital Improvement Project (CIP) and operating funds to protect Molokai’s forests and employ Molokaʻi residents. 

“Watershed CIP funds authorized by the State Legislature provided most of the match needed to apply for this grant. As a result, we’re able to invest in the community by providing much needed jobs and protection of our forests and other natural resources,” said Senator J. Kalani English, who represents Hāna, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi.

“I’m delighted that this State funding has been able to attract more Federal and private funding that will create more jobs on Moloka‘i while helping preserve our forests and reefs,” said Representative Lynn DeCoite, who represents Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, and East Maui. 

Some Federal and foundation funds are available only when a matching investment can be demonstrated. Since 2013, State Watershed Initiative funds have brought in over $36 million in Federal, County, and private funds for forest protection projects statewide.  “Combined funding creates jobs and benefits nature. It’s a win-win,” said Suzanne Case, DLNR Chairperson.

“The National Coastal Resilience Fund supports projects that restore natural systems in order to reduce risks to local communities and also enhance habitat for fish and wildlife,” said Erika Feller, Director of Coastal and Marine Conservation for NFWF. “We are excited to support DLNR’s work to restore native forests, which will help to reduce risks of flooding, landslides, and fire to communities on Molokaʻi, and will lead to healthier habitat for native species.”

The East Molokaʻi Watershed Partnership, led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), involves DLNR and other agencies, landowners, and community organizations working to develop a landscape-level management plan to address problems across the south slope, where dirt washes down to the ocean and clogs fishponds, kills corals which need sunlight to grow, and feeds invasive algae that smothers the reef. This funding enables the partners to continue protecting Molokai’s remaining native forests that hold the soil and absorb rainwater, and where possible, restore areas converted to bare dirt by wildfires, and hoofed animals. 

“Each budget session our Maui County Council allocates significantly to forest watershed protection efforts countywide,” said Council Vice Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who serves as the Economic Development and Budget Committee Chair, “and being from Molokai, where subsistence is our way of life, funding resource management is highly prioritized.” 

“Moloka’i depends on our natural resources to sustain our lifestyle. Protecting our watershed and restoring our forests protect our reefs. Taking care of Mauka takes care of Makai,” said Stacy Crivello, Molokai Community Liaison for Mayor Michael Victorino, County of Maui.

Restoration workers installing fence in natural area
Forest Restoration Fences keep out hoofed animals that denude native forest, which helps protect our watersheds. © DLNR

“The ʻōlelo no‘eau (Hawaiian proverb) ‘Inā e lepo ke kumu wai, e hō‘ea ana ka lepo i kai’ means ‘If the source of the water is dirty, muddy water will travel to the sea,’” said Ulalia Woodside, Director of The Nature Conservancy, Hawaiʻi chapter. “By restoring forests, we protect our water source, prevent erosion and provide jobs that support the people of Molokaʻi and the nature that sustains them.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.