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Carbon credit project proposed by DLNR to plant more trees

Pilot program would allow businesses, individuals to offset carbon footprints

The Maui News – A pilot project to offset carbon emissions and restore forests around Kahikinui has been proposed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Through the project, individuals and companies could purchase credits from the state to help plant trees that would offset greenhouse gas emissions from activities like driving, flying and using air-conditioning in homes.

“Trees and forests store carbon, so the way we remove it from the atmosphere is by planting more trees,” said David Smith, administrator for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

On Friday, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the state’s first-ever carbon forestry project for the Pu’u Mali Restoration area in the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve on Hawaii island. The department plans to seek private companies to help create the project.

While the Pu’u Mali project is a public-private partnership, the one on Maui would be run by the state, DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said.

High on the slopes of Haleakala, the Kahikinui State Forest Reserve and the adjacent Nakula Natural Area Reserve are steep, generally dry and windswept. Over many decades, uncontrolled grazing by introduced hooved animals, like goats and cattle, virtually destroyed the native koa and ohi’a forests in the area. This has led to serious erosion, loss of native habitat for endangered plants and animals, increased wildfire threats and reduced watershed function.

Efforts to restore the forests have been spearheaded by the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership, an alliance of 11 public and private landowners encompassing 43,000 contiguous acres. Over the past three years, DOFAW and its partners have constructed more than seven miles of ungulate-proof fencing and removed 700 invasive animals. They’ve planted 45,500 native plant seedlings in the Kahikinui reserve and 71,000 trees in the Nakula reserve.

“The goal is to one day have this functioning as a fully intact and productive watershed,” Maui-based DOFAW forester Lance DeSilva said. “Eventually we’d like to look at reintroducing some of the native birds here, but first the habitat for them has to recover.”

Volunteers and staff have mainly planted koa, along with mamane, ohi’a, olapa and other native understory plants. Some of the young koa trees planted six months ago have now grown to 4 and 5 feet tall.

“From the last time I came out here, you could barely see the seedlings that our crew had planted,” DeSilva said. “Ample rain has helped. It’s very promising. It’s a feel-good moment to see this.”

The department is requesting $120,000 from the state Legislature for the Maui pilot project, Dennison said. The carbon forestry projects on both Maui and Hawaii island will aid efforts to restore the forests, re-establish habitats for native species and reduce erosion and the threat of wildfires, Smith said.

“The bottom line is we’re trying to generate the funding necessary to do the forest restoration so it can pay for itself,” Smith said.

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