2 isle forests join 'experiment'
Big Isle tracts covering 40,000 acres will be part of a stewardship research program
Two forests on the Big Island are being set aside as "experimental" under a federal program that promotes research of tropical forestry, conservation, ecology and responsible harvesting of forest products.
The experimental forest program, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, already includes 78 other parcels of land across the country.
The Hawaii tracts -- a wet forest in Laupahoehoe and a tropical dry forest in Puu Waa Waa -- each are about 20,000 acres and bring the total acreage of the program to about 400,000 in almost every other state, federal and state officials announced yesterday.
"It's going to be a living laboratory," USDA Associate Chief Sally Collins said. "It's a place where we can work with generations of landowners to learn to protect and conserve the forest here."
She noted that the forests also will be used for education, training and preservation of cultural values important to native Hawaiians.
Gov. Linda Lingle said research could help develop techniques for invasive species control, native forest restoration and growing koa and other commercial species in a responsible manner.
"I know the resources from the federal government are going to help us a lot to learn about our own land and our own heritage," Lingle said.
Officials had no estimate on how much it would cost to maintain the forests, adding that the management plan was still being worked out and could take three to five years to fully develop.
Collins said an initial assessment indicated that $250,000 would be needed for basic facilities such as roads.
"In the long term, we've got to put together a much more comprehensive plan," she said.
The land will continue to be owned by the state and will be made available for traditional public uses such as hiking and hunting, said state Land Director Peter Young.
He noted that the decision to designate the two forests came after gathering input from residents at various public hearings, primarily on the Big Island.
"So far, it's just been almost a steamroller of support that's been going on in this process," he said. "It will continue to have public access; in fact, it will expand access to these areas and get people to better understand the world around them."
Officials noted that Hawaii's forests are the only tropical lands included in the federal program.
"Hawaii's experimental forest is a real milestone in conservation," Collins said. "It's located in a part of the world with incredible life. The ecological variety here can be difficult for us on the mainland to even begin to imagine.
"It'll give us a great capacity for world-class research in tropical forestry."