Maui News

Kula Forest Storm Assessment Shows Hundreds of Trees Flattened in Storm

December 11, 2021, 1:47 PM HST
* Updated December 13, 5:24 AM
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Maui forest damage assessment. (12.10.21) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi

While fencing seems to have held up along the south slopes of Haleakalā, hundreds of trees were flattened along a road in the Kula Forest Reserve. John Niezman, a DOFAW invasive species technician said, “During my time with DOFAW, along Polipoli Spring Road, this is the worst damage I’ve seen with so many trees down and a lot of culverts blocked.”  

On Friday, a work crew from the Maui Branch of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife passes Maui County crews and contractors removing trees that had fallen on or close to roads and highways; huge trees felled by the weather system earlier in the week that brought torrential rains and strong winds to the entire state. They were on their way to upcountry Maui to perform similar work in the forest. 

During an aerial storm damage assessment yesterday another DOFAW team first flew to the Nakula Natural Area Reserve, high on the south slopes of Haleakalā, to check on the condition of fences built to keep animals, like goats and feral cows out. 

John Niezman, a DOFAW invasive species technician, and Gavin McGowen, a DOFAW GIS specialist instruct their helicopter pilot to fly low and slow along fencing, particularly where it crosses deep, horizontal gashes on the south slopes of Haleakalā. McGowen said, “The weather prevented us from looking for all potential breaks, but in those places we were able to look, the fence was holding strong.” 

“In the past,” Niezman explains, “debris rushing down the mountain in these ravines has backed-up behind the fences and threatened to break through.”

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Here, and elsewhere in forested areas of Hawai‘i, hundreds of miles of fencing have been or is in the process of being built to keep feral ungulates out. Goats, pigs, deer, and cattle can eat vegetation down to bare soil creating the recipe for erosion and destruction of native vegetation. 

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At Nakula and in the adjacent Kahikinui Forest Reserve some 400,000 native plants and trees have been planted in recent years to restore the landscape to its native condition. Niezman said once there’s a breach in the fencing it doesn’t take long for goats or other ungulates to find them and to again begin their damaging behaviors. 

The DOFAW team also checked on the cabin at Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area and from their vantage point did not see any damage. However, a short distance away, along the road in the Kula Forest Reserve, they already knew what they’d see…hundreds, if not thousands of trees flattened in a scene that looks like a tornado swept through. Along one of the road’s sharp turns, down in a gully, a white pick-up truck is spotted. It’s unknown whether it being off the road was storm related. 

Niezman says most of the trees were young pines and he believes the high winds associated with the Kona storm snapped their tops they fell to the ground.  From the air, in this particular location, it did not appear that any trees were fully blocking the road. In other places however, trees are down on trails and roads are damaged and unsafe. 

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On Wednesday, DOFAW and the DLNR Division of State Parks announced that due to the hazardous conditions and impassable roads and trails the State would be closing the Kula Forest Reserve, Kahikinui Forest Reserve – Papa’anui Tract, and Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area until further notice.   

Closure signs are posted at access gates leading into the areas. For the past three days DOFAW crews and heavy equipment have been felling hazardous trees, chipping fallen and cut trees, and repairing roads, trails, and damaged drainage infrastructure. There’s no estimate on when the work will be completed. 

  • Maui forest damage assessment. (12.10.21) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi
  • Maui forest damage assessment. (12.10.21) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi
  • Maui forest damage assessment. (12.10.21) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi
  • Maui forest damage assessment. (12.10.21) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi
  • Maui forest damage assessment. (12.10.21) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi
  • Maui forest damage assessment. (12.10.21) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi
  • Maui forest damage assessment. (12.10.21) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi
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