On March 6, a group of more than 50 school children hiked into the new Discovery Forest around the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC) to take part in reclaiming the disappearing wild lands of Hawaii.
As part of an ongoing conservation effort led by San Diego Zoo Global and the Hawaii Forest Institute (HFI), the group took part in a day of learning and planting, with more than 300 koa trees planted.
“We are very excited to work with HFI on this project,” said Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “Once the forest canopy grows and understory develops, we will also be able to feed some of the native fruits produced in the KBCC Discovery Forest to birds that we breed here in captivity.”
Once a koa forest is established, understory fruiting species that are key to the diets of rare bird species can be planted in the area. Fruiting species include hoawa, kolea, maile, mamaki, mamane, ohelo, olapa, pilo and ieie.
The trees planted by the school group are the beginning of a new native tree forest that will support the native bird species in the future.
More than 650 koa and 200 mamane trees were planted in the forest throughout the month of March.
“We are thrilled to be collaborating with KBCC to create the first phase of the Discovery Forest, which was made possible through a grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Community Foundation,” said HFI Executive Director Heather Simmons.
Koa trees are an essential part of native Hawaiian forests. These rare trees improve soil quality through a chemical process called nitrogen fixation, allowing other native plants, like the fruiting trees necessary for native bird life, to grow in the nutrient-poor, lava-based soil.
In addition, koa are the dominant crown cover in some areas, providing watershed protection and playing a large part in Hawaiian culture.
“There are some species that will disappear entirely if koa forests no longer exist,” said Richard Switzer, associate director of applied animal ecology for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “Wild bird species such as akiapolaau are koa specialists and require large, old-growth koa trees for foraging on insect larvae. Other species, the akepa and omao, use primarily koa for foraging and nesting in cavities.”
The Keauhou Bird Conservation Center’s Discovery Forest is a new project and part of Hawaii Forest Institute’s Mahalo Aina: Give Back to the Forest program. Using propagation and release techniques, KBCC is reestablishing self-sustaining populations of critically endangered Hawaiian birds in the wild.
For Phase I, HFI began work with KBCC and other community partners to create the 1.8-acre Discovery Forest with 1,200 native koa trees. This project has provided service-learning opportunities for youth volunteers and has helped develop habitat and food for native birds.
The land is owned by Kamehameha Schools and is leased to KBCC.
The project to re-establish the koa forest has been funded through the support of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The koa seedlings were donated by the Three Mountain Alliance.
The Hawaii Forest Institute (HFI) is a 501(c) (3) statewide, nonprofit organization, incorporated in Hawaii in 2003. HFI’s mission is to promote the health and productivity of Hawaii’s forests through forest restoration, education, information dissemination, and support for scientific research.
The Hawaii Forest Industry Association (HFIA), which was incorporated in Hawaii in 1989, formed HFI and is its sole member. HFI projects benefit the Hawaiian Islands, and ongoing projects include:
* Restoration and outreach at a 76-acre forest preserve at Kaupulehu in Kona and a 70-acre endangered species preserve at LaiOpua in Kona
* Forest demonstration projects at the Panaewa Zoo, Honolulu Zoo, and Keauhou Bird Conservation Center
* Native Hawaiian Seed Bank Cooperative, collection and storage of seed for fire mitigation, restoration and research projects
* Hawaii Forest Journal, a publication of environmental stewardship
Kamehameha Schools is a private charitable educational trust endowed by the will of Hawaiian Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop (1831-1884), the great-granddaughter and last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I. The mission of Kamehameha Schools is to improve the capability and well-being of Hawaiians through education.
As Hawaii’s largest private landowner, KS is responsible for the stewardship of more than 365,000 acres of land on Hawaii island, Maui, Molokai, Oahu and Kauai. A small fraction of Princess Pauahi’s lands are in commercial real estate and properties. More than 358,000 acres of the trust’s lands are dedicated to conservation and agriculture.
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents.
The important conservation and science work of these entities is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.