Youth Volunteers Work to Restore Habitat for Endangered Kiwikiu
By Maui Now Staff
A group of youth volunteers spent recent weeks planting thousands of native trees on the leeward slopes of Haleakalā as part of an effort aimed at restoring dryland habitat for endangered native plant and bird species including the Kiwikiu or Maui Parrotbill bird, which numbered only 500 at last report.
In the weeks preceding Arbor Day (Friday, April 24, 2015), groups from Kupu Hawaiʻi Youth Conservation Corps traveled to the Nakula Natural Area Reserve under a partnership with the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
Under the partnership the group is tasked with planting 20,000 native trees in an effort to bring back life and water to the barren slopes damaged by non-native hooved animals.
In order to make use of a $300,000 federal grant before the end of 2016, the group has been planting at a rate of 2,800 trees per day, according to information released by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The Nakula Natural Area Reserve was established in 2011 and features a landscape with “dramatic elevational change of 5,600 vertical feet in 2.5 miles,” according to the DLNR.
“The mostly koa-dominated dryland forests are habitat for nine species of endangered Hawaiian plants and four species of birds, including the Kiwikiu or Maui Parrotbill,” department officials said.
As one of the rarest birds in the world, the Kiwikiu is no longer found at the reserve, but crews with the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project reportedly plan to begin reintroduction of the species in five years “as an insurance policy to prevent extinction of the species.”
Peter Landon, manager of the NAR System on Maui commented in a department press release saying, “Pressure from ungulates is what really destroyed it all; the trees just couldn’t handle being trampled and eaten, and now the environment may be too dry for any of the seeds to establish. Back when it was a closed canopy forest, there used to be freshwater springs and streams that ran all the way to the ocean.”
About Nakula he said, “This is really it. We are attempting to restore a forest in a small reserve of 1,400 acres, we’ve got Kanaio NAR (less than 900 acres) and that’s all we’re protecting from a dryland forest that used to span from Makawao to Kaupō; it’s kind of sad.”
According to department officials, each morning starts with a steep climb from base camp up the slopes, where thousands of koa, ʻōhiʻa lehua, mamane and aʻaliʻi seedlings have been dropped by helicopter.
“The volunteers form an outplanting assembly line, putting trees in the ground at an incredible rate,” officials said.
“E ola ‛oe. E ola mākou nei,” Malia Heimuli whispers as she removes a koa seedling from its container and buries its roots in the soft, dark earth. “It means you live, so we live.”
***Information courtesy state Department of Land and Natural Resources.