What are some of the benefits of restoring native eco-systems and habitats on Maui?
JI: Considering 2/3 of all native bird, insect, and plant species have gone extinct, the remaining in-tact native landscapes are becoming very rare. This is putting significant strain on the watershed functionality and the ability to recharge underground aquifers in Upcountry Maui. A healthy native forest works like a big sponge on the landscape that attracts and captures fresh water. The leaves of bigger canopy trees like koa extract moisture and make it drip rain from the passing clouds at higher elevations. The roots of ʻŌhiʻa trees can crack apart solid lava rocks and create pathways for rainwater to enter the subsurface and create a viable water table. The forest canopy would slow down the clouds and make them saturate the soil for prolonged periods of time on a daily basis. The lands just above Kīhei and Wailea were once more of a wetland than the extremely dry desert it is today.
In the absence of native forest, there is now a heat thermal effect on the landscape where the sun heats up the soil and the heat bounces upward that causes clouds to break apart. Conservation and restoration of native forest ecosystems is essential for restoring a healthy watershed that allows people to be able to take showers and enjoy swimming in pools in Wailea.
What are the biggest threats to Hawaiʻi’s native forests today?
JI: It is sad to say that there are unfavorable conditions for native ecosystems to be able to exist in Maui. Remaining native habitat is 100% dependent on human intervention and management to assure its existence into the future. Some of the biggest threats to Hawaiian native ecosystems today are invasive weed encroachment and feral animals grazing pressure. Weed control, animal control, and fence building are the biggest annual expenses of the most successful conservation and restoration programs throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
How long will this project last? Where do you see the focus of the conservation efforts now versus in 5 years from now?
JI: Skyline Conservation Initiative has a long-term partnership with landowner Haleakalā Ranch and a signed vision statement that states “all lands restored will be for habitat for future generations including threatened and endangered species.” If we do a good job over our lifetime, this forest will have the tools it needs to regenerate itself indefinitely We are basically trying to give CPR to a very special forest system that needs our help. We are in the process of constructing 2 miles of pig and deer proof fence to protect 46 acres for continued restoration. Over the next 5 years we will be adding biodiversity to the forest understory including extremely rare threatened, and endangered species. The success of our expanding restoration program over the past 19 years has opened many doors of opportunity that lead to collaborative partnerships which allow us to take on bigger and bigger field work projects each year. The sky’s the limit for our ambition and innovation, however funding is our most limiting factor. We have figured out the equation and metrics of what it takes to restore native habitat in the most challenging of conditions. It is essential to continue leveraging resources with amazing project partners like Fairmont Kea Lani who directly supports and encourages visitors to fund planting native trees in Maui. The tourism industry can play a very powerful role in restoring endangered habitats on Maui and the “Rooted in Aloha” program is the perfect opportunity.