ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kiley Breithaupt, with water hose in hand, and Kason Marques plant a maile seedling at the base of a tree in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Conservation association critical of Volcanoes park
An overall condition of "fair" to "poor" is blamed on insufficient funding for operations
HILO » Standing more than 6,000 feet above sea level on the side of Mauna Loa, a visitor can see ranch pastures on both sides of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's heavily forested "Mauna Loa strip."
The strip was once ranch land, too, but the park has restored it to vibrant native forest. Some native birds can be heard in the forest.
Scattered above the strip road are 13,000 endangered silverswords planted by the park.
With this picture of success in mind, it comes as jarring news that a private national organization has rated the park's overall condition as "fair" to "poor."
The National Parks Conservation Association announced the lackluster grade last week based on a study in 2006. The Volcanoes park report is one of about 60 by the association nationwide. The goal is to finish another 100 reports in time for the 100th anniversary of the national park system in 2016, said Kari Kiser, head of the association's Pacific region.
Hawaii Volcanoes got the low rating because of invasive species, Kiser said.
Up and down the winding, 11-mile strip road, non-native Kalij pheasants strut across the narrow pavement.
But you will not hear certain native birds such as the little red akepa because malaria-carrying mosquitoes have wiped them out in this area, said ranger Mardie Lane.
After decades of restoration, koa trees in the strip are magnificent. Rangers showed one that is 10 feet in diameter.
But elsewhere in the park, non-native faya trees have invaded almost 40,000 acres.
The intent of the conservation association report is to show Congress that the national parks need more money. For example, in 2004-2005, Hawaii Volcanoes needed $13.6 million for operations, but it received $5 million less than that.
The park work force is short by 63 employees. Volunteers put in 40,000 hours of work last year. Teenagers working for the Park Service Youth Conservation Corps fill in more gaps. But invasive species are still present.
The park has 54 endangered and threatened species but has money for only four. Nene, Hawaiian petrel, hawksbill turtles and silverswords are included. Forest birds are not.
The park has 314 known archaeological sites, but less than 5 percent of the park has been surveyed.
It provided programs to 5,269 students and teachers in 2006 but missed 1,200 others.
The management plan is more than 30 years old, written before 25 years of eruptions and the 2003 addition of 116,000 acres to the park's previous 229,000 acres.
Perhaps surprisingly, the park's air is rated "good" despite occasional vog.
"We have isolated pockets of nasty air," said Superintendent Cindy Orlando. "We're open. We're safe. We've got two spectacular eruptions here you'll never see anywhere else in the world."