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Plans for Kahikinui forest include watershed, invasive species management

State forestry agency seeks input on draft plan

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife is seeking public input on a draft 10-year management plan for the 2,916-acre Kahikinui Forest Reserve. DLNR photos

Watershed restoration, invasive species management and community access to public trails are among the state’s 10-year goals for a nearly 3,000-acre native forest on the slopes of Haleakala that has endured many changes over the years.

Kahikinui Forest Reserve, first established in 1928, covers 2,916 acres of public land mostly within the Kaupo district in the ahupua’a of Nakula, according to a draft management plan for the reserve.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife is now seeking public input on the plan, which outlines eight priority areas of watershed values; resource protection; game animal management; threatened and endangered species management; native ecosystems; invasive species control; access, trails and other public uses; and commercial activity.

Each district office of DOFAW will have a comprehensive plan that addresses Forest Reserve System issues, goals and objectives for a particular district. Plans will help guide field operations and budgeting as well as allow the public a transparent glimpse into the management process.

According to the plan, the Kahikinui Forest Reserve used to be around 16,000 acres of landscape, but after two significant land withdrawals — once in 1984 when Department of Hawaiian Home Lands properties were withdrawn and again in 2011 when an additional 1,420 acres were withdrawn to create the Nakula Natural Area Reserve — it now sits as two separate tracts.

DOFAW’s eight priority areas for the Kahikinui Forest Reserve are watershed values; resource protection; game animal management; threatened and endangered species management; native ecosystems; invasive species control; access, trails and other public uses; and commercial activity.

For generations, communities in the area thrived off resources from the land and sea, but major changes over the decades caused populations to decline, including the arrival of foreign diseases, high demands for fresh water to supply the growing sugar industry, introductions to territorial leases and permits and years of cattle grazing and ranching that damaged native ecosystems in Kahikinui and Kaupo.

“Coupled with the shifting of economic strategies to that of supplying western commercial demands, the need for labor-intensive dryland agriculture declined,” according to the report.

Kahikinui Forest Reserve is now surrounded primarily by other state and federally owned lands. The closest communities include Kahikinui, Kipahulu and Kaupo.

The landscape has been “severely altered” by grazing animals like feral cattle and goats, and the spread of pasture grass.

The forest reserve is now covered mainly by nonnative grasslands (49.5 percent), as well as native mesic shrubland (18.8 percent) and native dry shrubland (17.2 percent), while the remainder is koa trees and ‘ohi’a mesic forest, according to the Carbon Assessment of Hawaii Land Cover Map.

Within the reserve, there are three endangered species protected by both state and federal regulations, including ‘ope’ape’a (Hawaiian hoary bat), the nene (Hawaiian goose) and the ‘ua’u (Hawaiian petrel).

There are also five species of native birds found in the forest reserve, as well as many insects and plants.

While native populations seem stable, common historical threats include habitat loss and degradation, being hunted by introduced predatory animals, disease and pesticide exposure, according to the management plan.

Nonnative plant and insect species and fungi — rapid ‘ohi’a death and the two-line spittle bug, in particular — and mammals like axis deer were introduced over time and are a threat to native ecosystems and watershed health.

Other species are labeled as “early detection rapid response,” which means these species are not established in the area, but are a “serious threat to watershed function and/or native ecosystems.”

Early detection, rapid assessment and response are a “critical defense” against invasive insects and disease.

To mitigate soil erosion and deforestation from larger threats, there are plans to add ungulate fencing and other strategies to manage or eradicate populations within the geographic area.

Wildfires are another concern, as well as the impacts of climate change, which can cause shifts in natural events like flooding and erosion, for example.

“The primary mitigation for climate change is reduction in emissions and enhancement of carbon sinks,” the management plan says. “Maintaining and increasing carbon storage within our forests will help decrease atmospheric carbon. Individual species and ecosystems types may be more vulnerable to climate change if they are not able to adapt or migrate to suitable habitats.”

The eight priorities outlined in the plan call for:

• Watershed management, which involves maintaining partnerships, climate change adaptation and increasing land holding protected under the Forest Reserve System. Erosion reduction and prevention, as well as monitoring forest composition are also included.

• Resource protection and cultural preservation — mitigating wildfires; monitoring forest health, including the onset of rapid ‘ohi’a death, insects and diseases; and understanding weather conditions that may influence fire or other natural disasters.

• Managing game animals, which would include promoting and regulating public hunting outlined under state law.

• Threatened and endangered species management by protecting Kahikinui’s rare plants and animals.

• Protecting native ecosystems in the forest reserve, which will be engaged through restoration projects, ungulate control and climate change adaptation.

• Invasive species control, which involves reducing the impact caused by them, managing invasive plant and animal populations and focusing on biosecurity.

• Giving the community access to trails and space for other activities by increasing public information and awareness, infrastructure management and construction where applicable.

• Generating income from approved commercial activities to fund natural resource management at the forest reserve. Income would also be used for ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, which is a method of reducing carbon dioxide.

To read the full plan, visit dlnr.hawaii.gov/forestry/files/2021/02/KahikinuiFR_plan_DRAFT_public_review.pdf.

Virtual exploration and education materials about the forest reserve are available at kahikinui-forest-reserve-histategis.hub.arcgis.com.

Deadline for comments is April 30, which can be submitted via email to forestry@hawaii.gov, online at https://kahikinui-forest-reserve-histategis.hub.arcgis.com/, or by mail to the Forestry Program Manager at 1151 Punchbowl Street, room 325, Honolulu, HI 96813.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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