Youth ‘build’ a forest, environmental awareness

| February 26, 2015 | 0 Comments
A student helps put together a display at the Urban Garden Center in Pearl City on Feb. 13. The display, which showcases plants and animals found in a native Hawaiian forest, was created by the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program for Hawaii Agriculture and Environmental Awareness Day. (Photo by Celeste Hanley, Oahu Army Natural Resources Program)

A student helps put together a display at the Urban Garden Center in Pearl City on Feb. 13. The display, which showcases plants and animals found in a native Hawaiian forest, was created by the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program for Hawaii Agriculture and Environmental Awareness Day. (Photo by Celeste Hanley, Oahu Army Natural Resources Program)

Celeste Hanley
Oahu Army Natural Resources Program

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — Over 100 elementary school students from central Oahu interacted with a native Hawaiian forest at the Hawaii Agriculture and Environmental Awareness Day at the Urban Garden Center in Pearl City, Feb. 13.

Students listen to OANRP AmeriCorps intern Noweo Kai talk about native Hawaiian forests for Hawaii Agriculture and Environmental Awareness Day at the Urban Garden Center in Pearl City on Feb. 13. (Photo by Celeste Hanley, Oahu Army Natural Resources Program)

Students listen to OANRP AmeriCorps intern Noweo Kai talk about native Hawaiian forests for Hawaii Agriculture and Environmental Awareness Day at the Urban Garden Center in Pearl City on Feb. 13. (Photo by Celeste Hanley, Oahu Army Natural Resources Program)

While this may seem like an unlikely place to find a forest these days, students from five schools were able to get a glimpse into the unique native habitat that exists in their own “backyards” — the mauka areas upland from where we live, with a little help from the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program, or OANRP.

Closer to nature

High in the Waianae and Koolau mountains, an extraordinary community of native Hawaiian plants and animals dominates the landscape in places where humans enjoy only a visitor status. Since it can take a full day to hike to these areas, much longer than the length of a school day, OANRP brought the forest to the schools at this year’s Agriculture and Environmental Awareness Day, an event hosted by the Pearl City Urban Garden Center to promote greater awareness and understanding of local agriculture and the environment.

Using a simple backdrop panorama of a high elevation forest on Oahu, the students learned about the unique members of the native forest, including the plants and animals that made it to Oahu over four million years ago without the help of people.

Eager students volunteered to help OANRP staff place cutouts of the uniquely Hawaiian trees, birds, bugs and snails on the landscape, “building” a diverse community of life within the bustling confines of the Urban Garden Center.

The students also filled the landscape with some of things that don’t belong in our forests and threaten their survival, such as invasive plants, feral pigs and even fire. A lot of these threats, such as the invasive strawberry guava tree, are more familiar to the students than the native Hawaiian species, as they have taken over many of the more accessible natural areas on the island, where few, if any, Hawaiian plants and animals remain.

“Should we just let these things take over the last remaining native forests of Oahu?” OANRP AmeriCorps intern Noweo Kai asked the eager elementary school students.

Each group unanimously agreed, “No!” and was given an opportunity to brainstorm how to stop these threats.

OANRP efforts

The students also learned what OANRP is currently doing to manage native forests, such as building fences to keep out pigs and goats, removing invasive weeds, preventing the spread of fire-promoting weeds and controlling fire events via helicopter.

OANRP protects over 100 endangered species throughout the island, almost a fourth of the endangered species found in the state. Despite this large number, one student dared to wonder in front of his classmates at the end of the activity, “Do you ever find new species in the forest?”

OANRP staff happily reported on the new species discoveries of program staff and other exciting finds in the state.

“As we’ve been able to survey Army training areas more thoroughly over the years, there have been several occasions in which we’ve found a species we thought was extinct, or even found a new species that’s never been documented by the scientific community, like several of the insect species discovered by staff entomology specialist Dr. Karl Magnacca,” described Kimberly Welch, outreach specialist with OANRP.

Adaptation

Our human population continues to grow, and drastic environmental changes are happening before our eyes. We now, more than ever, need to ensure that the next generation has a vested interest in conserving our natural environment, including the endangered species that have called Oahu home for millions of years.

Building a forest with elementary school students on Agriculture and Environmental Awareness Day is just one of many ways OANRP connects with youth on this subject. Outreach staff also lead volunteer trips in remote mountain areas on Oahu, where volunteers learn about and actively protect Hawaiian plants and animals, including rare and endangered species, in a native Hawaiian ecosystem.

Trips are open to ages 14 and up, and the program can also accommodate school groups as young as fourth grade.

How to Volunteer

If you are interested in getting involved in the effort to protect our native ecosystems, contact outreach staff at (808) 656-7741 or via email at outreach@oanrp.com.

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Category: Community, Sustainability

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