Monday, January 29, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, January 29, 2001

Control of invasive species essential

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer

Richard H. Davis spent more than half of the last century marching, clearing and building Hawaii’s back-country trails.

"I roamed around the mountains year in and year out," said the 80-year-old, a former president of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club.

In that time, Davis has had insights and sightings of the things that damage Island forests. Things that most folks will never see.

His conclusion: The most critical issues for forests is the control of invasive, predatory species.

Many are species you’d never suspect. "I’ve seen flocks of mynah birds in the nesting season, in the nests and eating the eggs of forest birds," he said.

Davis said he viewed such sights several times, generally in the Oahu mountain area "from the top of Kipapa all the way to Poamoho."

Another of the aggressive alien birds is the bulbul, which Davis said he has seen flocking into the trees to attack nestlings of the native elepaio, and sometimes cornering and killing adults birds.

The Oahu elepaio last year was placed on the national endangered species list.

Feral cats are a serious problem in a number of habitats.

Davis said he recalls dozens of native ducks, or koloa, nesting along the banks of the Waimea River on Kauai, and 20 to 30 feral cats in the region. The koloa are now far less common.

When he opened a trail for wildlife workers at Waihoi Valley beyond Hana on Maui, he camped high in the uplands. "Even at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, you could hear the meow, meow’ of feral cats moving across the marshes going after birds. I’ve seen feral cats way up in the high trees of the Koolau Mountains, going after bird nests."

On the island of Molokai, Davis said, he reopened the Wailau Trail in the mid-1940s.

There was a cave in Wailau known as the Malihini cave. Davis said it was well-used in ancient times, and he recalls finding a part of a poi pounder near its entrance.

"You should have seen that area. It was all native forests, and it was beautiful!" he said.

Then goats moved into the back of Wailau Valley, having crossed the saddle from neighboring Pelekunu. But after goats arrived, they ate the dense native vegetation. After years of goat grazing, the hillside above the Malihini cave collapsed, covering the ancient cave with earth.

Davis’s lesson to back-country managers today is that replanting and restoring native habitat is not enough.

"That’s not going to solve the problem. You have to do something about these invasive species. "

Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertiser’s Kauai bureau chief, and its science and environment writer. You can call him at (808) 245-3074 or e-mail

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