State releases draft plan for Kula forest

This is a photo of the old ranger cabin in the Kula Forest Reserve before reforestation efforts began in 1924. A native forest was virtually eliminated by cattle grazing. State Division of Forestry and Wildlife photo

Protecting the watershed at the Kula Forest Reserve and the Kahikinui Forest Reserve’s Papa’anui tract through land acquisition, public hunting of pigs, deer and goats and forest monitoring is the top priority in a draft reserve management plan released by the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

When completed, the plan will provide information on natural resources in the reserve, prioritize implementation of management objectives and support the forestry division’s efforts to secure funding for objectives. It will include a brief history, a record of land transactions and boundary changes, a description of natural and cultural resources and an accounting of infrastructure and intended uses in the area, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Forestry and Wildlife Division said in a news release Friday.

The 4,931-acre Kula Forest Reserve, which runs from 9,500 feet to 3,800 feet of elevation on the leeward side of Haleakala, was established by gubernatorial proclamation on Sept. 11, 1912, with a purpose different from most other forest reserves, the draft report said. Reserves generally are established to protect an existing forest, but the Kula reserve was formed to reforest an area that had been turned into pastureland.

Growing forest cover around Polipoli Spring, which at the time was considered the only permanent source of water on the southern end of Haleakala, was a key impetus for creating the reserve, the draft report said.

The Papa’anui tract in the Kahikinui Forest Reserve, established Dec. 22, 1928, covers 713 acres and is a ridge top adjacent to the Kula reserve. It connects the two parts of the Kula reserve and holds a relatively flat clearing on Skyline Road, known as the “Ballpark.” When Civilian Conservation Corps crews were replanting the forest in the 1930s, they would often play baseball or softball at the Ballpark for recreation.

This map shows the 4,931 acre Kula Forest Reserve and the 713 acre Papa‘anui tract on the leeward slope of Haleakala. State Division of Forestry and Wildlife graphic

The clearing of the trees began in the late 1880s when crown and government lands in Kula were leased for pasturelands to Cornwell Ranch, the draft report said. When the ranch took over the site, it was likely filled with native koa, ohia, mamane, aalii and pukiawe.

A decade later, the state’s first territorial forester, Ralph Hosmer, began describing the near disappearance of the forest due to grazing. By 1912, there were only dead stumps, small groups of trees on steep-sided gulches protected from cattle and scattered groves of mamane, which were harvested for fence posts, the draft report said.

With grazing leases expiring, it was decided that the higher slopes should be preserved and reforested with trees of “high economic value,” the draft report said. The planting program for the Kula reserve began in 1924 with Civilian Conservation Corps members joining the effort in the 1930s. Stands of tropical ash, sugi pine, redwood, maritime pine, Monterey pine and Monterey cypress were planted.

Today, the Kula reserve offers recreational activities such as hunting and hiking with 12 trails in the area. At Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area, there is a park, cabin and camping facilities. Nonmotorized mountain bikes are allowed on some trails but not horses, dirt bikes or all-terrain vehicles from the forest reserve entrance; only street legal four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed on Polipoli Access Road.

The draft report prioritized eight management objectives and goals for both the Kula reserve and Papa’anui tract. The top priority for both sites was watershed protection with aquifer recharge and erosion control.

To achieve the goal, the draft report calls for acquiring or negotiating leases for neighboring properties; maintaining forest cover; controlling ungulate populations, such as pigs, deer and goats; and monitoring forest composition over time. The ungulate control actions include encouraging public hunting and identifying sensitive areas for possible fencing.

Resource protection from fire, insects and disease was the second priority for the Kula reserve in the draft report. Large fires, which occurred in the Kula reserve in 1954, 1984 and 2007, can be devastating for a native forest with most native plant species unable to regenerate after a fire.

While the lower elevations are primarily filled with non-native timber, the upper slopes are dominated by native shrublands consisting of mamane, aalii, pukiawe, ohia and koa, the draft report notes.

Fire protection measures recommended include development of fire management and fuel reduction plans, establishing and maintaining firebreaks, posting Smokey Bear fire prevention signs, and conducting traffic stops at entrance and access points in the reserve during extreme fire-risk periods.

On the insect and disease front, of particular concern is the rapid ohia death disease, which currently is confirmed only on Hawaii Island. Thousands of ohia across 75,000 acres of forest have been killed by this fungus.

The division has completed an aerial survey for the disease on Maui and currently is collecting samples from targeted areas to determine if the fungus is present on the island, the draft report said.

Another priority is the management of threatened and endangered species. Both sites are home to one threatened and four endangered plant species as well as the endangered nene and Hawaiian hoary bat, or opeape. Four native birds also have been seen in the areas — the alauahio, apapane, iiwi and amakihi.

The management plan approval process includes reviews by forestry and wildlife division and administrative staff, partner agencies and the public. The administrator of the division needs to sign off, then the draft plans are sent to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for approval.

“The management plans provide a historical context and current description of resources within these forest reserves, in addition to providing guidance for future management activities,” said David Smith, Division of Forestry and Wildlife administrator.

Draft management plans are posted on the DLNR forestry and wildlife division website at dlnr.hawaii.gov/forestry/frs/reserves/management-plans.

Written comments may be submitted by July 31 to Jan Pali, Forestry and Watershed Planner, by via email to Jan.N.Pali@hawaii.gov or by regular mail to Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Department of Land and Natural Resources, 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 325, Honolulu 96813.

For more information, contact Pali at (808) 587-4166.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.