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With education and commitment we can build the Maui ‘urban forest’

VIEWPOINT

Drought conditions continue to worsen across the main Hawaiian Islands. The worst drought conditions are in Maui County, “severe” drought conditions may soon transition to “extreme.” Kahului is consistently identified as the hottest spot in the state, frequently setting new temperature records. Trees and their valuable shade could bring back some of the cool.

Maui Green & Beautiful, formerly Maui Outdoor Circle, is a nonprofit organization recognized by the State of Hawaii whose mission is “Caring for the Aina through preservation, protection and education.” We’re committed to this mission by identifying and protecting Maui’s “exceptional trees,” defending Maui trees as needed, highlighting Maui County ordinances affecting the urban forest, and creating educational programs and activities to support Maui’s landscape industry.

Trees provide many benefits to people and the communities they live in and have important environmental factors. Research has found they lower summer temperatures by 20 degrees or more, make citizens happy by providing cool shade and attractive spaces, buffer wind and noise, add oxygen to the environment, and reduce erosion and storm water drainage problems. Proper long-term care is essential to maximize “shade” benefits a tree has to offer.

Maui Green & Beautiful has drawn attention to the assault on Maui’s shade trees in the past. The County of Maui chopped down three mature, healthy monkeypod trees in Ho’aloha Park to get rid of the homeless, but it didn’t help. All that happened is we lost the shade and ambiance in that beautiful park. Forty-three mature monkeypod trees along Kihei’s Pi’ilani Highway were removed because the roots were creating problems in the subdivision. Proper maintenance and pruning could have solved the problem.

The County of Maui is responsible to provide trees and their shade in county parking lots. It appears the new War Memorial Gym parking lot plan will not provide much-needed shade for the community and will only contribute to the rapidly expanding urban heat island problem. Who approved the plan to remove all trees, creating one large black asphalt desert in the middle of Kahului?

The County of Maui, HI Code of Ordinances 19.36B.080 — Landscaping. 2 requires that “One tree shall be provided in the parking area for every five parking spaces, distributed as evenly as practicable throughout the parking area and appropriately maintained to provide maximum shade to the extent practicable.”

Healthy, mature tree canopies in our public parking lots benefit the Maui community. For an example of how Maui’s parking lot trees could provide the much needed shade to cool off our island community, we refer you to the monkeypod trees planted in the UH-MC parking lot by Maui’s long term landscape expert Ernie Rezents.

Maui Green & Beautiful recently conducted a field trip to 15 public parking lots in Central Maui. Our findings were: 1) Trees on the perimeters of most parking lots provide adequate shade; 2) Trees in the parking lots “do not and have not” been appropriately maintained or pruned to provide adequate shade; 3) In some parking lots, no irrigation is provided. Trees appear to be dying, missing a top or most of the smaller branches.

Maui Green & Beautiful will begin using the “Maui County Request for Service” which will aid in a dialogue with Maui County to “Stop the Chop” in parking lots and follow the County Landscaping ordinance. Maui Green & Beautiful and Maui County must collaborate to identify the problems, educate, and find solutions to these problems, which will improve Maui’s urban forest.

Education and allowing shade trees to grow in public parking lots is just the beginning to cool off Maui. Honolulu’s “urban forestry” concept is way ahead of Maui County’s approach to the issue. Through public engagement and commitment at all levels — private, community and government, we can build the Maui “urban forest” for the future.

Maui Green & Beautiful is in the process of planting 50 trees in public spaces in celebration of the Earth Day, 50th anniversary. Maui Green & Beautiful and other organizations are participating with ReTree Hawaii. The goal is to plant 100,000 trees on Oct. 30, 2020. Suggestions and volunteers are welcome.

See the Maui Green & Beautiful website for valuable tree information.

* Ranae Ganske-Cerizo is the president of Maui Green & Beautiful. She is the former district conservationist, USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kahului, Maui Service Center.

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