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Roots of change

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Sierra Club Maui Group Chairman Rob Weltman is the chief organizer of ReTree Hawaii, a statewide tree planting initiative. ANANDA STONE photos

Pop quiz: What simple act can help combat climate change, prevent soil erosion and clean the air you breathe?

If you answered “planting a tree,” give yourself a pat on the back. And don’t stop there: Grab a shovel and put a sapling in the ground.

That’s what hundreds of volunteers did on Oct. 30 as part of the La Ho’oulu Pae Moku/ReTree Hawaii statewide tree planting initiative.  

Last fall, the Sierra Club Maui Group, led by its chairman, Rob Weltman, formed La Ho’oulu Pae Moku/ReTree Hawaii, a coalition of climate, environmental and conservation organizations, along with schools, government agencies and community groups. The group chose Oct. 30, 2020, as the date for a tree planting event on all six major islands.

“We wanted it to be just before the rainy season for optimal survival conditions for the plants without a major risk of getting rained out,” Weltman explained. “Then we looked at the Hawaiian moon calendar and consulted with Hawaiian cultural practitioners to select a good day for planting. October 30, 2020 met all the requirements.”

October was a big month for Hawaii’s trees: Gov. David Ige proclaimed Oct. 30 as Statewide Tree Planting Day in Hawaii and the Maui County Council adopted a resolution recognizing Oct. 30 as Maui County Tree Planting Day.

The group had a specific goal in mind: 10,000 volunteers planting 100,000 trees at 1,000 sites across the state all on one day. But their plan was thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led them to scale back on the number of volunteers and planting sites.

“COVID-19 was an unexpected and difficult obstacle,” Weltman said.

Of the sites statewide, there were nearly 30 on Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Throughout the day, volunteers planted trees and other plants — the vast majority of which are native to Hawaii — on private and public properties. There were a lot of moving parts, but Weltman says it went off without a hitch.

“Everything came together beautifully,” he said. “And we are very proud of all the planting sites that participated and the many volunteers who filled them.”

A final tally is still pending, but Weltman says the statewide effort resulted in thousands of newly planted trees. In the space of a single day, La Ho’oulu Pae Moku/ReTree Hawaii made a lasting difference.

“Besides the concrete benefits of getting more trees and other plants growing everywhere we could, we had the goal of reaching a very large number of people with information about the climate crisis and the urgency of switching away from fossil fuels for energy and transportation to clean, renewable sources,” Weltman said.

Another outcome? Creating a statewide network of people and organizations to take collective action on climate change.

“Hawaii is full of individuals and organizations looking for ways to protect and enhance our natural environment and shield it from the extreme effects of climate change,” Weltman said. “Joining forces allows us to get more done and to reach more people.”

Weltman was heartened by the turnout and enthusiasm he saw Oct. 30, which he said “indicates there is a grassroots desire to do something practical to make Maui a better place while doing what we can to fight the climate crisis.”

And if you missed the event, don’t worry — it’s still ongoing.

“To allow more people to participate in the campaign, we expanded our infrastructure to allow individuals or groups to report any plants they put in the ground anywhere in the state at any time, not only on Oct. 30,” Weltman said.

To learn more about La Ho’oulu Pae Moku/ReTree Hawaii or to find out how you can contribute or participate, visit retree-hawaii.org or email info@retree-hawaii.org.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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