Big Isle forests join climate monitoring
Research at two tropical forest sites on the Big Island will be critical in studying the effects of global climate change, officials involved in a new partnership say.
The Hawaii Experimental Tropical Forest will combine the expertise of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Hawaii to take an in-depth look at both dry and wet tropical forests over the next 35 years.
The Forest Service announced Thursday that it will spend $300,000 to get the program started.
"This will have benefit for all the Hawaiian islands, but also benefits for other Pacific islands and for all tropical ecosystems throughout the world," said Boone Kauffman, director of the Forest Service's Institute of Pacific Island Forestry on the Big Island.
"Just last month, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) said near-equator islands are especially vulnerable in terms of impacts on biological diversity," Kauffman said.
Eventually, more than 70 scientists will participate in work at the 38,885-acre Pu'u Wa'awa'a dry forest in West Hawaii and the 12,343-acre Laupahoehoe forest in East Hawaii, Kauffman said.
Both areas are state land managed by the Forestry and Wildlife Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said division Administrator Paul Conry.
Step one of the project is to do "base-line biological surveys" to determine what animals and plants are living in the forests and how they are doing, Conry said.
"This basic information will be very useful for managers to take forward programs to protect and preserve those resources, and to restore them where it is needed," he said.
The Laupahoehoe section also is part of the National Ecological Observatory Network, a 30-year project to monitor vegetation, animals and climate at 20 sites across the U.S.
"It's exciting to see the establishment of the Hawaii Experimental Tropical Forest, because it adds a missing component to our nation's network of climate change sentinel sites," said Ann Bartuska, Forest Service deputy chief of research and development, in a DLNR release about the program. "It will be the 80th experimental forest in the Forest Service network, and the site is among the biggest, farthest west and south, and with the highest rainfall."
Changes in temperature, sea level, weather patterns and the spread of invasive species all are concerns, Kauffman said.
Conservation groups and local residents helped plan the program and will be joining in educational and outreach aspects, Conry said.