|Auwahi at `Ulupalakua Ranch. Image courtesy Art Medeiros.|
When Art Medeiros fenced some Maui pasture that had a
smattering of native dryland forest plants on it, most folks figured he was
engaged in a pipe dream.
He hoped that by excluding deer and cattle, and with a
little loving care and some outplanting, something approaching a healthy native
dryland forest could result.
Medeiros was right. The image above is the proof. The
three dark green patches are areas fenced to keep grazing animals out and then
planted with dryland natives. The 10-acre center square was fenced and planted 20
years ago, the bottom 23 acres 12 years ago, and the 23-acre shape at the right
8 years ago.
Medeiros worked with the landowners, `Ulupalakua Ranch’s
Erdman family, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural
Resources Conservation Service, to form the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project. You can learn more about it at this website
What they found is that landscape-scale conservation efforts
It is a remarkable example, but certainly not the only example in Hawaii.
● When the Territory of Hawai`i removed feral cattle from
the Koke`e grasslands on Kaua`i, those rolling acres of pasture were able to
convert back to forest that is now Koke`e State Park.
● When George Munro on Lana`i fenced hundreds of acres at Kanepu`u
a century ago to keep out deer and mouflon sheep, he protected a native forest
that survives today.
● When Lida and David Burney took the analysis of ancient pollen
samples at Makawehi on Kaua`i and
planted those plants into a nearby former cane field, they restored something long gone
from that landscape.
Medeiros a few decades ago saw a few botanical gems in a
severely degraded landscape. When he proposed trying to restore it, he got a
lot of pushback. It was a dead forest standing, he was told; Degraded
landscapes were inevitably going to further decline.
“The question was whether we could rebuild this system, or
was this (an example of) the end of all natural systems?”
At Auwahi, there were priceless old endemic trees, but they
were not reproducing and had not reproduced for decades. The native species covered
only 3 percent of the landscape.
Why care? Native dryland forest is some of the rarest treasure
in the Hawaiian realm. It has been displaced by development, agriculture,
pasture and constant pressure from non-native predators on the natural
landscape, like cattle, deer, goats, sheep, pigs and rats.
Medeiros and his team fenced out the cattle and deer at
Auwahi, starting with the 10-acre square they now call A-1. With the help of teams
of community volunteers, teachers, canoe clubs and many others, they began
planting out native species—more than 125,000 seedlings to date.
The result: Native species cover in some areas is now 82
“Near two-thirds of native tree species at Auwahi are now
producing seedlings naturally, a sign of a healthy functioning ecosystem,
including some species that had not done so in centuries,” Medeiros said.
And on a dry slope of Haleakala, where much of the landscape
is brown and yellow, here it is deep green. Not only an indication that the plants
are back, but that the landscape is functioning as a watershed.
Medeiros gives special credit to the landowners, Pardee and
Sumner Erdman and their family, for their dedication to conservation, and their
willingness to convert pasture to native forest—without compensation.
“`Ulupalakua Ranch has...served largely as a silent and
enthusiastic partner. In all my years in conservation, I have never seen
another for-profit group act in this way,” he said.
Donors to the project over the years included the Frost
Family Foundation, Maui County Department of Water Supply, Hawai`i Community
Foundation, Hawai`i Tourism Authority, Maui County Office of Economic
Development and the Edward J Anderson Foundation.
© Jan TenBruggencate 2017