The Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission is working on a project to restore native Hawaiian plants and a dry-land forest on Kahoolawe. The commission's cultural education coordinator, Kalei Tsuha, said religious markers have been erected on various parts of Kahoolawe, calling for rains from neighboring Maui. The naulu rains from Ulupalakua in South Maui once frequented Kahoolawe more than now.

Kahoolawe restoration
group taking root

Reforestation success has been
increasing in the past five years

KAHOOLAWE >> As wind whipped dust on a mountaintop of the former target island of Kahoolawe, native Hawaiian Kalei Tsuha talked about restoring the denuded landscape and encouraging the return of rains.

"You've got to think big. You've got to think beyond," Tsuha said.

The Navy turns over access to the 28,800-acre island today and will perform a formal changeover ceremony at noon tomorrow at Iolani Palace.

Native Hawaiians who have been working to restore Kahoolawe want to quicken the pace of reforestation.

The state Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission restoration manager Paul Higashino hopes to see an increase in the number of volunteer reforestation workers next year. Restoration workers have had to work around the Navy schedule for the removal of ordnance during the past 10 years.

Reforestation has not been easy, with more than 13,000 acres of the island having no vegetation, mainly due to overgrazing by goats, which have been removed from the island since the late 1980s, Higashino said. Reforestation is also limited to areas that have been cleared of ordnance.

The average rainfall is only about 27 inches a year, he said. But the survival rate of newly planted native Hawaiian species has improved in the past five years to 60 percent from 20 percent, Higashino said.

The commission, which receives 11 percent of the $400 million authorized by Congress in 1993 for ordnance removal and restoration, has found the greatest success in planting native species in the crater at Lua Makika near the 1,477-foot summit.

About 15,000 native species have been planted in Lua Makika, and more than 100,000 native species have been planted on Kahoolawe in the past five years, Higashino said.

Tsuha said the commission has built three koa religious shrines calling for rains from Ulupalakua in the mountains of South Maui.

She said the precipitation called the "naulu rains" still occurs, with clouds usually appearing in the mornings and stretching from Ulupalakua to Kahoolawe.

Native Hawaiians said the rainfall has decreased because the forest is higher at Ulupalakua than it used to be, which inhibits cloud cover that used to extend to Kahoolawe.

Tsuha said besides helping with erosion control, a number of native trees have additional uses, including the aalii, which can be used for house posts.

She said Kahoolawe is like a living museum, and restoration would help to bring together important pieces.

Tsuha said that after visiting the island in 1991 with the native Hawaiian group Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, she was inspired to help in the restoration of the island and went to college where she learned the Hawaiian language and became a Hawaiian immersion teacher.

She began working with the commission about seven years ago.

"The island has done so much for me," she said. "It got me back to being in my culture."

Those wishing to volunteer in reforestation efforts can call the state Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission office on Maui at 808-243-5020.


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