Biologist Loope was protector of native ecosystems

Conservationist who led the fight against invasive species on Maui dies at age 74

Lloyd Loope Jr.

Lloyd Loope Jr.

Widely respected biologist and conservationist Lloyd Loope Jr., a researcher who spent much of his life preserving native species in national parks, died July 4 in his Makawao residence. He was 74.

Loope was instrumental on Maui in fighting against invasive species for nearly 40 years. Up until January, he was still writing research papers.

“He was a giant, both fierce and gentle at the same time,” said Teya Penniman, former manager of the Maui Invasive Species Committee. “He was fierce in his passion for native ecosystems, lending a warrior’s voice on the issues of invasive species. He was a giant in that all who knew or worked with him revered him for his knowledge and intellect.”

Loope authored countless studies on native plants, mentored many young researchers and raised awareness of invasive species not yet on the state’s radar.

“He was one of my mentors,” said Cathleen Bailey, a wildlife biologist who leads the Endangered Wildlife Management program at Haleakala National Park. “And he was very instrumental in setting standards and paving the path for conservation in Hawaii. A very humble man, and a great loss.”

As a boy, Loope excelled in school and “really latched onto the biological sciences,” which would lay the groundwork for his career, his youngest son, Marshall Loope, said.

The oldest of four children, Lloyd Loope Jr. was born to Alice and Lloyd Loope Sr. on Feb. 4, 1943, in Virginia. Lloyd Loope Sr. was overseas fighting in Europe at the time of his son’s birth. While he was away, Alice Loope worked as a teacher to support the family.

“Those were pretty tough times,” Marshall Loope said. “He had to grow up fast.”

The son of an outdoorsman, Lloyd Loope Jr. discovered a passion for the environment and an aptitude for science early on. He worked his way to the top of the academic chain, eventually earning his doctorate in botany from Duke University in 1970. Before moving to Maui, he studied wildlife and advised conservation in the Everglades and Grand Teton national parks.

After reading a book about Hawaii’s natural history, Loope decided to move the family — wife Keri, daughter Brook and son Bennett — to Maui in 1980. A research biologist for Haleakala National Park, Loope loved his job and was at it 12 hours a day, seven days a week, holidays and weekends included.

“He was the hardest working man I’d ever seen,” said Marshall Loope, who was born on Maui in 1982.

But he always made time for his family, taking them hiking in Haleakala and traveling cross-country to national parks. On Maui, he introduced his children to one of his favorite pastimes.

“A lot of times whenever he took us out, we would be doing invasive species control,” Marshall Loope recalled. “We would go out to the sand dunes of Waiehu and pull out fountain grass and coccinia grandis (an invasive vine) from Kahului. This is what we did for free time.”

Fountain grass never took hold on Maui the way it did on other islands, one of the early success stories among the invasive species that Lloyd Loope studied.

“He pretty much led me to the job I’m at now,” said Marshall Loope, now a plant quarantine inspector with the state Department of Agriculture.

Lloyd Loope’s expertise put him at the crux of the invasive species awareness movement in Hawaii. According to Penniman, Loope “raised the alarm” in the 1990s about miconia, a fast-growing invasive tree with broad leaves that block the light from other plants.

“One of the most important things for Maui conservation that he did was the discovery of miconia as a problem,” said Fern Duvall, head of Maui’s Native Ecosystem Protection and Management program with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. “He was the first one who sort of put that on the environmentalist page of something that could be really horrendous.”

Loope brought his findings to the Melastome Action Committee, a collection of state and federal agencies that was brainstorming a response to the miconia problem. But members soon realized that miconia wasn’t the only major threat, leading to the creation of invasive species committees on other islands.

MISC formed in 1999, and Loope was tasked with putting together the first invasive species list for the organization to target. Many of the species and goals he laid out are things that the committee is still working on today, said Duvall, who was the first MISC vice chairman and became chairman after Loope. In the early 2000s, Loope also started surveys for little fire ants, Penniman said.

“He had no tolerance for scientific inaccuracy, a standard he applied with equal rigor to his own voluminous publications and reports,” Penniman said. “Under all that commitment, dedication and focus, there was also a gentleness and humility. Lloyd often sat silent during meetings, unless and until he had something meaningful to say. Even though he knew his own self-worth, he was quick to give credit to others.”

Loope’s job was eventually transferred to the U.S. Geological Survey, but he continued to do research at Haleakala, where he oversaw research and preservation of the rare silverswords and surveyed the southern slopes with biologist Art Medeiros, Duvall said.

Shortly after Don Reeser became Haleakala superintendent in 1988, Loope walked into his office to talk about the expansion of Kahului Airport. Loope believed the airport needed a better inspection process if it was going to handle international flights.

“He said, ‘The park needs to take a stand on this,’ “ Reeser said. “Of course, I was fairly new in the park, and it was a political issue too. But he was right. The things that came in at the airport didn’t just stay at the airport. They went up the hills to Haleakala and out to Kipahulu. That was something we needed to be concerned about.”

The climate-controlled quarantine inspection facility that was built in 2008 — where Marshall Loope now works — was “a direct result” of their efforts, Duvall said.

For 17 years, Lloyd Loope’s research guided Reeser through many important decisions.

“There was nobody, as far as technical issues, that I relied on more than Lloyd Loope,” Reeser said.

In November 2012, Loope retired from USGS, according to a MISC quarterly report. But that didn’t stop him from studying challenges such as rapid ohia death and writing research papers until earlier this year.

Marshall Loope said he thinks his father was driven by a sense of responsibility because he understood the issues facing Hawaii’s native landscape. As a researcher, he was “irreplaceable,” Duvall said.

“He was genuinely interested in whoever he was talking to,” Duvall said. “Very often we would have a big heated discussion. He would be quiet and at the end he would come out with this piece of wisdom, not putting anybody down. . . . He was a diplomatic scientist, which many of us aren’t.”

In Reeser’s mind, Loope’s name is among the greats.

“In my career I worked with a lot of research scientists for the Park Service, and I don’t think there was anybody better than he was,” Reeser said. “I think he was one of the all-time champions for Hawaiian biological conservation.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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