Volunteers help USAG-HI protect native habitats

| April 21, 2017 | 1 Comment
OANRP volunteer Kathy Altz clears the invasive firespike weed from a section of Mount Kaala on April 1. Altz enjoys spending time outdoors and said tackling weeds gives her a sense of purpose. ÒIt makes you feel good to see progress,Ó she added.

OANRP volunteer Kathy Altz clears the invasive firespike weed from a section of Mount Kaala on April 1. Altz enjoys spending time outdoors and said tackling weeds gives her a sense of purpose. “It makes you feel good to see progress,” she added.


Story and photos by

Karen A. Iwamoto
Staff Writer
WAIANAE MOUNTAIN RANGE — High above Schofield Barracks and the sound of Soldiers training, another team was focused on a different mission: clearing the mountains of invasive weeds to make room for native plants.

In Hawaii, home to some of the world’s most isolated ecosystems and most threatened species, protecting native plants is key to protecting entire habitats.

Photo by Roy Kikuta, OANRP volunteer This awapuhiakanaloa, or Liparis-hawaienis, is one of three orchid species native to Hawaii, according to OANRP staff.

Photo by Roy Kikuta, OANRP volunteer
This awapuhiakanaloa, or Liparis-hawaienis, is one of three orchid species native to Hawaii, according to OANRP staff.

“Native plants make up the background matrix, the home in which all of our rare species thrive,” said Jane Beachy, ecosystem restoration program manager for the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program. “When that habitat is changed (when invasive plants invade), then the ecosystem and all of the interactions change in a variety of ways that we don’t fully understand – which is why we do a lot of weed control. Weed control is like triage. Our first priority is to protect the habitat around those rare species.”

U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, through its contract with the OANRP, safeguards hundreds of acres of land on Oahu and ensures the Army complies with the Endangered Species Act, the Fish & Wildlife Coordinated Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

To effectively balance the Army’s training requirements with its natural resource responsibilities, OANRP relies on help from volunteers, many who have dedicated over 10 years to the program’s efforts.

“There is a lot to get done and we are extremely thankful for the volunteer support,” said Kimberly Welch, an environmental outreach specialist with OANRP. Welch, along with fellow outreach specialist, Celeste Hanley, led a group of volunteers to Kahanahaiki in the Waianae Mountains on March 30.

OANRP staff and volunteers spend over 5,000 hours a year controlling invasive weeds in native forests. Volunteers focus on more easily accessible areas of the forest, freeing OANRP staff to focus on conservation projects in more remote areas.

Photo by Karen A. Iwamoto, Oahu Publications OANRP volunteer Roy Kikuta pauses before a pile of invasive strawberry guavatree branches that he helped chop down March 30 at Kahanahaiki in the Waianae mountains.

Photo by Karen A. Iwamoto, Oahu Publications
OANRP volunteer Roy Kikuta pauses before a pile of invasive strawberry guavatree branches.

Kahanahaiki
On that particular day, armed with handsaws, pruners and bottles of herbicide, they spent several hours clearing the area of non-native strawberry guava trees that were outcompeting native plants for space.

“I feel really passionate about the outdoors and feel it personally when (native plants) are affected negatively,” said Elaine Mahoney, a longtime volunteer. “And I feel elated when we come back and see koa popping up where the strawberry guava used to be.”

Fellow volunteer Roy Kikuta paused to take in the trees and the surrounding view of the mountains.

“I love forests, and Hawaiian forests are particularly nice,” he said. “Native plants have a gentleness to them that I like. I feel comfortable around them. A lot of the (invasive) plants have thorns and sharp edges and pungent smells. Hawaiian plants are nice. Hawaiian plants are understated. And I just really love being out here.”

Further down the slope, volunteer Jim Keenan was tackling another stand of strawberry guava trees.

Photo by Roy Kikuta, OANRP volunteer A Kamehameha butterfly pauses on a metal pipe near where volunteers had been weeding on Mount Kaala on April 1.

Photo by Roy Kikuta, OANRP volunteer
A Kamehameha butterfly pauses on a metal pipe near where volunteers had been weeding on Mount Kaala on April 1.

“The Hawaiian culture is here and each native plant has a story,” he said. “There are multiple stories for them, multiple uses for them, multiple gods they represent. It gives meaning to the forest.

“Through hula, through songs, you learn how they’re used or what god they represent, and as you start learning about the plants you wonder, ‘What does that plant look like?’” he continued. “You can look it up, but when you actually go to the forest and see it, that’s a whole different level of experience.”

By clearing the mountains of invasive plants, the volunteers are clearing the way not only for native plants, but also for native animals such as the kahuli, or Hawaiian tree snail, and the elepaio, a forest bird. Both the kahuli and the elepaio are endangered on Oahu and volunteer actions help to improve their native forest habitat.

Welch and Hanley described the native forests as the foundation for native ecosystems. Because of Hawaii’s location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, many species evolved in isolation and thrive in specific environments. They rely on each other for survival.

One of OANRPÕs weed control strategies calls for targeted use of herbicide to control invasives while minimizing risk of exposure to native plants.

One of OANRP’s weed control strategies calls for targeted use of herbicide to control invasives while minimizing risk of exposure to native plants.

Welch described this weed as particularly difficult to tackle because it regrows from cuttings and spreads easily. Eliminating it will take years, but OANRP’s focus for the day was on containing it and preventing it from spreading further into the native forest.

Kikuta and Keenan were there, as were several other volunteers from the March 30 outing. They were joined by some new faces, including Sean Rivera and Joe Hall.

It was their first trip to Oahu’s highest summit, but Hall found himself in familiar territory: near by mamaki, the same native nettle that he had planted throughout his own yard in Kalihi with the hope of making it an attractive environment for the state insect, the Kamehameha butterfly. Mamaki is a host plant to the Kamehameha, one of the few that its caterpillars are found on.

Hall had yet to see a Kamehameha in the wild, but he was careful to avoid harming the mamaki as he weeded. Being near them seemed to give him a sense of what he was working to protect, while the view of the native forest spread out below him offered hope for the future of native plants.

“This is like heaven for me,” he said.

Photo by Karen A. Iwamoto, Oahu Publications OANRP volunteer Sean Rivera holds a handful of the invasive firespike weed, April 1, on Mount Kaala. Volunteers spent the day helping to control the weed's reach into the mountain's native forest.

Photo by Karen A. Iwamoto, Oahu Publications
OANRP volunteer Sean Rivera holds a handful of the invasive firespike weed, April 1..

For Rivera, volunteering was a way to give back to the community.

“I was born here. I’m probably going to die here,” he said. “I want to learn as much as I can (about the environment). I don’t want to be all about myself.”

They and the other volunteers continued weeding until it was time to break for lunch. They had finished eating and were readying to leave the site when something caught Rivera’s eye.

Photo by Roy Kikuta, OANRP volunteer A Kamehameha butterfly pauses on a metal pipe near where volunteers had been weeding on Mount Kaala on April 1.

Photo by Roy Kikuta, OANRP volunteer
A Kamehameha butterfly pauses on a metal pipe near where volunteers had been weeding on Mount Kaala on April 1.

“Come here, look!”

A Kamehameha butterfly floated by, grazing the mamaki leaves where Hall had been weeding. It paused briefly, and the volunteers got a closer look before it rose up and darted away.

Volunteering
To volunteer with the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program (OANRP), you must first sign up complete a volunteer application with the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii.

For instructions and to download an application, visit https://www.oanrp.com/become-a-volunteer/.

For more information about OANRP, including descriptions of the work sites, visit https://www.oanrp.com.

Photo by Karen A. Iwamoto, Oahu Publications The view from the summit of Mount Kaala on April 1. OANRP staff and volunteers spent the day here clearing areas of the invasive firespike plant.

Photo by Karen A. Iwamoto, Oahu Publications
The view from the summit of Mount Kaala on April 1. OANRP staff and volunteers spent the day here clearing areas of the invasive firespike plant.

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Category: Community, Sustainability

Comments (1)

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  1. William Joseph Hall (Joe Hall) says:

    Aloha Karen,

    We have received the Kamehameha Butterflies at our home in Kalihi Valley. Check out my Facebook page (William Joseph Hall) for 2 YouTube videos that Sean created of the release and our progress.

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