Saturday, November 24, 2007

Planting Natives at Kahuku Ranch

This is my favorite kind of gardening. No weeding, no fertilizing, one-time planting and watering, then pau. Mother Nature takes over, and someday, we hope, maybe in 20 years if we’re lucky, we get to see a lush native forest where there was once only pasture.

The Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Service recruited volunteers from the community to plant 400 native Hawaiian seedlings up at the 4,200-foot level in Ka’u on the Big Island, just a tiny part of the recently acquired Kahuku Ranch. NPS is doing research to find the best techniques for reforestation of pasturelands here. The area is usually closed to the public, and I was fortunate to be a part of a 15-member volunteer crew that was treated to some fantastic scenery for its efforts.

Some koa and ‘ohia are already established, but cattle grazing and mouflon sheep had wiped out the understory of the native forest in this area for many years; only grass covers the ground. Our job was to plant within fenced-in areas that excluded cattle and sheep so that plants had a chance to grow and data could be collected.

Using long-handled dibbles we poked holes in the 'aina and planted keiki of pilo, olapa, ‘akala, and kolea. Some of us had the task of being clouds: I was one who donned one of the watering backpacks to provide a good soak of precious water to each seedling that would thereafter have to depend on the whims of our changing climate. These are actually firefighting backpacks that weigh 45 pounds when full – indeed I made sure to walk extra carefully over the grass-covered 'a'a and hidden lava tubes.

Hunters, ranchers, gatherers, agriculturalists, gardeners, foresters. The history of humans and our connections to the land provides much food for thought at Kahuku Ranch, which is now at the edge of a transformation. The NPS will be holding scoping meetings in the future to get feedback from the community about what the people want to do with these public lands. As for me, after what I experienced today, I’ll be looking forward to the opportunity to express my love of what is truly the natural beauty of Hawai'i.

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