Happened To...

An update on past news

Park winning battles with
weed tree, if not war

Question: What ever happened to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's efforts to eradicate non-native faya trees?

Answer: The infestation of the park with faya, or "fire," trees started with one plant in 1961 and grew to 37,000 acres by the early 1990s. A nitrogen-fixer, meaning that it makes its own fertilizer, the tree grows 15 times faster than native ohia trees.

When the park tried cutting the trees down, it was slow work. In the early 1990s, the park discovered it got better results if it cut a ring around the trunk, poisoned the tree and left it standing to die slowly.

Especially in wet areas, the dying trees provide shade which is ideal for spores of native hapuu tree ferns to get started, said park natural resources manager Tim Tunison.

Three years ago the park began a new eradication effort, slowly killing just every third faya tree, Tunison said.

Since the trees add fertilizer to the soil, maintaining a lot of shade helps keep weeds from popping up as soon as the trees are gone, said park plant ecologist Rhonda Loh.

Park workers come back and kill remaining fayas later.

Even with chain saws, the process is slow and costly, $100,000 for a single 100-acre test plot.

In general, the park is "containing" the problem, Loh said.

In some areas, such as the edge of Kilauea caldera along the Hawaii Belt Highway, there are so many earthquake cracks in the ground that it is too dangerous for people to work there, and the park has to "surrender," Loh said.

Fortunately, the new Kahuku area of the park is almost free of the weed tree. Workers found a single small stand, 15 miles from any other fayas. "We nailed it," Tunison said.

This update was written by Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Thompson.

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