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Fresh Water: From the Mountains To Your Drinking Glass

(page 6 of 8)


Allies United

Successful alliances of more than 71 public and private landowners unite statewide to protect Hawaii’s watersheds. Three of these partnerships share highlights of their unique work.

Watershed partnerships  – among them the state of Hawaii, the largest public landowner, and Kamehameha Schools, the largest private landowner – lead the way in protecting 2.2 million acres of watersheds that cross property boundaries on the main Hawaiian Islands. The alliances began in 1991 on East Maui. Today, 11 partnerships on six islands form the Hawaii Association of Watershed Partnerships with 7,000 volunteers statewide. And since 2006 they have leveraged $12 million in private and federal funding to support local jobs and businesses.

Lisa Ferentinos, who oversees the Watershed Partnership Program on behalf of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, says not all “green” is good at producing water. For example, native ohia captures rainwater in its flowers and leaves to fall gently to the ground vegetation to be absorbed. Not so with strawberry guava, an invasive species which lets rainwater “through-fall” to its roots with less going into the ground to feed the aquifers.

Protecting watersheds from hoofed animals is the first priority. Fencing is the most feasible way to prevent feral pigs, goats, sheep, deer and wild cattle from trampling and devouring native vegetation. Animals also spread destructive weeds and plant diseases. Eliminating invasive plants and reforestation efforts can then follow successfully.

“Because of human activity, we have to intervene to remove invasive weeds, monitor fires, predators and diseases, as well as replant native species,” Ferentinos says. “Without active protection, we lose our native forests, we lose our water.”

Photo: Courtesy Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance

Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance

The Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance, established in 2009, is introducing some of Hawaii’s littlest people to its tallest mountain. Its program, “More Kids in the Woods,” funded by a one-year, $33,000 federal grant, aims to involve 400 Big Island youth ages 6 to 20 in watershed protection and forest restoration.

“Our approach is a fusion of contemporary ecological restoration with Hawaiian cultural traditions,” says Cheyenne Perry, MKWA coordinator. One of three Big Island-based watershed partnerships, MKWA covers all of Mauna Kea and includes large public and private landowners (1,000 acres and more) above the 2,000-foot elevation of  the 13,796-foot mountain. Feral cattle, sheep and game animals introduced in the 18th century damaged much of Mauna Kea’s native forests.

With students ages 6 to 12 as its core group, MKWA offers forest field trips to gather native seeds for restoration planting in early spring 2012. It is working with Kanu o ka ‘Aina in Waimea and Ke Ana Laahana in Hilo, both public charter schools, to construct greenhouses where seeds can be nurtured into seedlings for replanting. At one restoration site at the 6,000- to 8,000-foot elevation, students are planting trees and shrubs.

“We have workshops taught by knowledgeable kumu (teachers) of Hawaiian culture for teachers and older students on forest restoration incorporating Hawaiian cultural practices, such as moon phases, planting techniques and more,” Perry says.

Photo: Chad Riley

Kauai Watershed Alliance

High tech comes to the aid of native watershed forests in the innovative work of the Kauai Watershed Alliance. Using high-resolution images, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, KWA was able to virtually pinpoint the worst threats from invasive plants and feral animals in the group’s remote, thickly forested 144,000-acre focus area on the Garden Isle.

“Nothing had ever been done before to map weeds using images that show 2 centimeters of area per pixel,” says Trae Menard, KWA coordinator and director of forest conservation and Kauai director for The Nature Conservancy. By comparison, Google Earth uses 20 centimeters to 30 centimeters per pixel for its images. A system designed by Resource Mapping of Hawaii hones the resolution to 1 centimeter per pixel.

“We knew the best strategy to protect where the rain fell on Kauai depended on early detection and rapid response,” says Menard, who had logged more than 100 hours in helicopter surveys to document watershed threats in isolated and high terrain areas that includes Alakai Wilderness Preserve and Mt. Waialeale, the world’s wettest spot.

The mapping detail reveals exact locations of areas affected by weeds, which can be eliminated from the air using a cone-shaped nozzle called the “Stinger” to deliver a herbicide formula developed by the University of Hawaii, Menard says. A precision herbicide ballistic technology that uses paint ball technology is in the works for larger areas inaccessible by foot.

“We can now control weeds in remote, large priority watershed landscapes at a huge cost savings,” says Menard of the high-resolution imagery system now used statewide.

Photo: Courtesy of LHWRP

Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership

Majestic koa trees, prized by ancient Hawaiians for their hardy sea-faring canoes, once dominated the drought-challenged leeward slopes of Haleakala and aided in capturing valuable fog drip to replenish watershed areas on Maui. In recent times, as the forests were decimated, the area became known for turning the ocean red after heavy rains from topsoil erosion.

Today, with less than 10 percent of the original forest remaining, the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership is aiming to restore koa forests on Haleakala from Makawao to Kaupo between 3,500- and 6,500-foot elevations.

“We began with just a few volunteers and begging people to help us,” says Dr. Art Medeiros, LHWRP technical adviser and biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “In eight years, we’ve attracted thousands of volunteers and planted 100,000 seedlings that will grow into trees that will outlive all of us.” With a goal of 60 percent restoration of native koa in the next 100 years, Medeiros is experimenting with scattering seed from the air using special seed-carrying clay balls.
LHWRP, which was established in 2003 and oversees 43,175 acres along the rugged leeward Maui area, has a volunteer waiting list for the day long trips with knowledgeable leaders to plant trees, remove non-native species and collect seeds. “It warms my heart to see so many willing to help on this historic restoration of a unique native forest,” Medeiros says.

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