Group hopes to reforest
summit of Kahoolawe

Hearings will be held on the plan
by a native Hawaiian organization
to bring back a dry land forest

By Gary T. Kubota

A group of native Hawaiians is proposing to bring back a native dry land forest at the summit of Kahoolawe, an island once used for military target practice.

But the cost of restoring portions of the 28,800-acre island will not be cheap. In the worst areas, where the once fertile soil has eroded into red hardpan, the estimated cost is $2.93 million for 150 acres, according to a draft of the Kahoolawe Environmental Restoration Plan.

The draft, available at public libraries statewide, will be the subject of a series of public hearings by the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, the body appointed to oversee the restoration.

About $80 million of the $400 authorized by Congress has been spent for its cleanup and restoration.

At the 1,477-foot level of Pu'u Moa'ulanui on Kahoolawe now grows alien species of buffel grass and natal redtop. But scientists, sifting through fire pits dating to 1500 A.D., have found trees once grew there, including ohia and wiliwili.

In the mornings, the peaks intercept occasional clouds, capturing the moisture in dew-laden plants and moss.

Here, the chances for rain are greater, and also the opportunity for life.

But below at lower elevations, where the soil has eroded into 1,200 acres of hardpan, the plants are expected to have more difficulty surviving.

Most of the hardpan areas are in the eastern third of the island, but some are also scattered in the center and western sections.

Erosion continues to be a problem. The island loses an estimated 1.8 million tons of soil a year.

Restoration ecologist Paul Higashino said the goal is to slow the wind and water enough to allow the soil to catch and retain organic matter and allow the runoff from rainfall to percolate into the soil.

While the plan leaves the choice open to plant alien species as wind breakers, the commission plans to grow native plants as much as possible, Higashino said.

"There's all this fear if we do alien plants, they may become the pest species and that's always possible," Higashino said.

A number of attempts have been made to reforest the island, with some success.

In 1979, the U.S. Navy and the state planted tamarisk trees as windbreaks.

Between 1985 and 1989, the Native Hawaiian Plant Society grew native species in the most eroded and windswept areas. Some native species survived, including grasses 'aki'aki and 'emola, and the shrub 'akoko.

Public hearings

The Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission will hold hearings on a draft of the Kahoolawe Environmental Restoration Plan. All hearings start at 7 p.m.

Oct. 6: Mitchell Pauole Center

Oct. 7: Maui County Council Chambers in Wailuku

Oct. 8: Lanai School Library

Oct. 9: Kauai Community College Student Services building

Oct. 13: Hawaii County Parks Culture & Arts Building in Hilo

Oct. 14: Konawaena High School Library

Oct. 15: State Capitol auditorium

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