Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Maui’s awareness turns
to native plants

A tree-planting project turns into a
protest against alien species,
and eyes are opened

By Gary T. Kubota


WAILUKU -- It started as a day for more than 200 volunteers to plant ironwood trees at a county park.

It turned into a protest against alien species.

It brought Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana to tears.

"I wasn't crying so much for myself but for the people," recalled Apana. "It saddened me that here people came out to help the county and this unfortunate thing happened."

Apana said to avoid conflicts like the Nov. 13 incident at Keopuolani Park, he plans to meet with some protesters Friday to discuss forming a new policy advocating the growth of more native Hawaiian plants on county land.

The meeting starts at 8 a.m. in the mayor's conference room.

Apana has agreed to remove the 100 ironwoods planted on Nov. 13 if a suitable native plant can be found to serve as a windbreak.

County Park Director Floyd Miyazono said the ironwoods were selected after a number of native Hawaiian plants died in the park.

Miyazono said the death of several hundred trees of different kind in the park was caused by a combination of factors, including wind, salt and unsuitable watering practices.

Miyazono said some trees such as hau could become a "maintenance nightmare" because of the pruning required for them.

Critics say park officials never gave the native plants a chance and lacked the expertise to plant and raise native species.

"A lot of it is a lack of knowledge about native plants," said Dana Hall, a member of the native Hawaiian group Hui Alanui O Makena. "You have to appreciate the subtleties of these plants."

Paia resident Rene Sylva said the ironwood is a "botanical cancer" that turns the soil acidic and destroys native forests and is having a devastating environmental impact in Iao Valley.

Sylva said native trees do not have the same effect on the soil and allows ground cover to grow and bind the soil.

"The point is not to do anymore damage to the environment," said Sylva, who once worked at the county's botanical garden.

Residents have become increasingly vocal about government policies that they say have hurt efforts to increase the propagation of native Hawaiian plants and supported alien species.

About a year ago, residents protested the planting of ironwood trees in the state forest reserve at Kahakuloa.

Sylva said bulldozers were used to cut across a quarter-mile of hill containing native plants.

He said the state halted the planting of the ironwoods but never replanted the area with native species.

Anna Palomino, who operates a plant nursery in Haiku, said the interest in native Hawaiian plants is increasing as more people learn to grow them and appreciate the need for diversity.

"I found there's a tremendous change once people understand one of these plants could hold the cure for AIDS," she said.

Apana said he supports planting as many native plants as possible and believes the protest helped to increase awareness among people, including himself.

"I think because of that, people have been educated a lot faster, so there's something good that came about."

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