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Management plan, funding approved for Waikamoi

Nearly 9,000-acre preserve in East Maui is home to some endangered native species

The Waikamoi Preserve is seen from the air. The 8,951-acre preserve is home to endangered species and its protection is crucial to native rainforest life. DLNR photo

Noting the importance of protecting native wildlife, forests and watersheds within the 8,951-acre Waikamoi Preserve, a long-term management plan and funding were approved Tuesday to streamline conservation efforts to control feral ungulates and invasive plants in the area.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources unanimously approved more than $2.6 million in funding for The Nature Conservancy during fiscal years 2023-28 for continued enrollment in the Natural Area Partnership Program and the implementation of Waikamoi Preserve Long-Range Management Plan.

Waikamoi has been a landmark for native ecosystem management plans in the state for decades, said David Smith of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife, adding that the preserve “is key” for protecting endangered birds and keeping out feral ungulates.

The Nature Conservancy’s Maui terrestrial program manages four preserves, including Waikamoi, East Maui Irrigation (now jointly owned by Alexander & Baldwin and Mahi Pono), also known as the “Waikamoi Addition,” as well as Kanepu’u and Kapunakea preserves.

There are 13 native birds historically reported from Waikamoi Preserve, some listed as endangered or threatened; 14 native terrestrial plant communities, two of which are considered rare; as well as 49 plant species, including Maui endemics listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A map shows the area of the Waikamoi Preserve on the northeast slopes of Haleakala. DLNR image

The original 5,230-acre Waikamoi Preserve, a sanctuary for Maui’s native wildlife, was established in 1983 through a perpetual conservation easement with landowner Haleakala Ranch Co. Waikamoi, the 7,500-acre Hanawi Natural Area Reserve and other state and private lands on the northeast slopes of Haleakala represent one of the largest intact native rain forests in the state, comprising more than 100,000 acres of essential watershed forest.

“Active management of Waikamoi Preserve is essential to protecting the entire 100,000-acre area,” according to the management plan.

In 2013, The Nature Conservancy obtained a conservation easement over 3,721 acres of East Maui Irrigation lands next to Waikamoi Preserve, later merging the two parcels together.

The land is some of the “highest quality and weed-free native forest in the state” as well as being a key forest bird habitat, according to the document.

Management of the four Maui Nui preserves is a large-scale operation – between the four there are 39,590 meters of fence, 7,507 acres surveyed for weeds from the ground and another 1,300 from the air, 2,017 ungulate-control traps and 20,918 meters of transect monitored for weeds and ungulates, the report said.

FERAL UNGULATE CONTROL

One of the main focuses of the Waikamoi Preserve Long-Range Management Plan is to maintain “zero ungulate activity” in Waikamoi Preserve.

“It’s really important that we have these long-term fences put up,” Emma Yuen, DOFAW’s manager of the Native Ecosystems Program, said during Tuesday’s BLNR meeting. “It’s a really huge focus and this type of preserve will allow long-term management.”

According to the document, one deer on the western boundary and two pigs in the EMI addition have been removed in the last six years. Currently, there is one known pig in the western unit and fewer than five deer in northern Waikamoi.

Sightings were due to the Kona storms in 2021, which caused a large tree to fall, lifting a fence enough for about four deer to get under in the northern section. A stream curtain was also damaged, allowing one pig and a deer to get into the preserve.

Other than that, the current regimen of fencing, scouting, monitoring, hunting and trapping has been working, but staff plan to continue to improve and refine these management activities, while also implementing new approaches, such as mesh network game cameras, unmanned aerial vehicle-mounted infrared cameras and scope to assist hunting or remote IP fencing monitoring systems.

PROTECTING FLORA AND FAUNA

Another primary management objective is to prevent the introduction of invasive weeds, like Himalayan ginger, gorse and conifers that have spread in East Maui, as well as to mitigate pest insects and plant disease, such as a fungi that causes rapid ohia death.

Rapid ohia death, which is more prominent on Hawaii island but has been spotted in East Maui, is 64 times more deadly in an unfenced area compared to a fenced area because feral ungulates could be spreading it, Yuen said.

“So it’s just really even more urgent, the need to protect our native forests from these animals,” she said.

In addition to visitors and staff thoroughly cleaning gear before entering the preserve, staff follow cleaning protocols like removing seeds, debris and insects.

Other techniques include scouting and monitoring, drone and aerial imagery to spot invasive weeds, hosting youth conservation corps teams to conduct systematic control sweeps, or using Herbicide Ballistic Technology in areas that are inaccessible, according to the document.

The Waikamoi project has seen a reduction in funding of 35 percent over the past 15 years, according to the document, leaving the department to scale back and/or cut various programs, like community outreach, predator control and resource and threat monitoring programs.

With funding, they hope to ensure the successful protection of the Waikamoi Preserve watershed, where success lies in conservation efforts.

Without it, the native forest would quickly be overtaken by invasive weeds, which would impact watershed function and aquifer health.

“As we experience the loss of native forest habitat to nonnative plant and animal species the likelihood of widespread soil erosion increases, greatly impacting freshwater quality,” the plan states. “It is well documented that erosion can lead to increased pollution and sedimentation in streams and rivers which feed our aquifers and surface water systems and eventually make its way to nearshore reef habitats.”

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

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