In Maui forest, project helps life begin anew
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By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
KULA, Maui — A major reforestation project took root yesterday with the planting of the first of 212,000 trees and shrubs to replace 1,500 acres of forest destroyed in a wildfire earlier this year.
Working on a hillside above the clouds at the 7,000-foot elevation of the Kula Forest Reserve on Haleakala, 40 Seabury Hall sophomores dug holes and stuck native 'a'ali'i seedlings into the ground as part of the Makawao school's Community Day. By early afternoon, they had planted 1,000 of the shrubs and two 'ohe makai trees.
On Thursday, students from Seabury and Kamehameha Schools Maui participated in a blessing of 150,000 seedlings at Native Nursery LLC in Kula and helped prepare the batch planted yesterday.
Native Nursery collected seeds for the plants from the Kula forest and from adjoining land to maintain the genetic integrity of the local growth, said Ethan Romanchak, nursery co-owner with Jonathan Keyser. The nursery also is importing 57,000 redwoods from Oregon and California.
"It's pretty exciting because there hasn't been a big forest planting on Maui for at least a generation," Romanchak said.
The official planting will begin Nov. 19 when crews from contractor Summitt Forests Inc. of Ashland, Ore., install 53,000 seedlings during the first planting phase of the $4.7 million reforestation project, which extends through fiscal year 2011.
Sixty-five percent of the 1,500 acres will be planted with native plants and shrubs, including 37,000 koa trees, 22,000 'ohi'a, 37,000 mamane, 46,000 'a'ali'i, and 13,000 naio. The native growth is expected to provide enhanced habitat for rare forest birds.
Twenty-five percent of the area will be planted with tall redwoods that will attract fog condensation. The remaining 10 percent will be left for grass and shrublands to provide cover and forest openings for wildlife and game.
Lance De Silva, a resource protection forester for the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said 7,000 seedlings have been reserved for planting by volunteers, such as the Seabury group. All the seedlings are expected to be in the ground by April, he said.
The wildfire, started by a discarded cigarette butt, burned 2,300 acres in the Kula Forest Reserve from Jan. 23 to Feb. 5. The 800 acres that were not as severely damaged have been left to recover on their own.
The blaze was one of Hawai'i's most destructive forest fires, but it provided an unprecedented opportunity for state foresters to create a large native forest ecosystem from scratch.
"This is a special project. We don't get many opportunities to do a project like this. The basics of forestry is planting trees," De Silva said.
In preparation for the planting, foresters worked to control invasive plants, including spraying herbicide on 175 acres of blackberry in the burned areas. Nine tons of grass seed for ground cover and erosion control were distributed, and five miles of fencing were installed to keep out cattle and goats. The Department of Land and Natural Resources also opened special hunting seasons for feral pigs and sheep.
State forestry crews and a contractor worked for four months to clear 800 fire-damaged trees and mill salvageable lumber.
The Kula Forest Reserve includes Polipoli Springs State Park, a 10-acre recreational area in the forest's fog belt with a network of trails for hiking and biking. The area was reopened to the public Sept. 1 and will remain open during the reforestation effort.
Reach Christie Wilson at email@example.com.
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