HIARNG earns 2017 Army environmental award

| March 15, 2018 | 0 Comments
Restoration of KMR lowland wet forest continues after the removal of invasive species. Hence, endemic species thrive, endangered species habitat is protected, maintenance costs are reduced and training lands are sustainable. These efforts are critical to the success of the HIARNG mission. (U.S. Army photo)

Restoration of KMR lowland wet forest continues after the removal of invasive species. Hence, endemic species thrive, endangered species habitat is protected, maintenance costs are reduced and training lands are sustainable. These efforts are critical to the success of the HIARNG mission. (U.S. Army photo)

Rita Hess
U.S. Army Environmental Command

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Army National Guard’s responsiblity stretches across several tropical island sites and encompasses 1,300 total acres.
Some of these sites are home to rare, threatened and/or endangered ecosystems and species, making managing these areas an immense challenge.

However, the HIARNG Natural Resources Conservation (NRC) Program was successful enough to earn a 2017 Secretary of the Army Environmental Command award for finding the right balance between managing unique and fragile ecosystems with important training activities.

“Training areas in Hawaii are valuable resources for our Army National Guard,” said Maj. Gen. Joe Logan, Hawaii’s state adjutant general. “Our HIARNG Environmental office has done a phenomenal job by not only caring for our installation by protecting native species and cultural sites, but also virtually ridding our properties of invasive plants.

“We have units deploying in 2018, and the critical work they have accomplished has kept maneuver areas clear. Our Soldiers can maintain their readiness and train on our own land.

”The NRC Program focused on one invasive species at a time and targeted seed sources – specifically those of invasive species such as miconia, albizia, kiawe and strawberry guava. The past two years saw removal of all mature miconia trees and a renewed focus on juveniles and seedlings. This allowed HIARNG to transition from treatment to monitoring. The elimination of adult trees slashed herbicide use by 95 percent.

Next, the NRC Program turned to albizia, which can quickly overtake the installation’s vehicle corridors and pass-through areas. The tree grows

over 100 feet tall and is easily uprooted during storms and strong winds. It can get caught in electrical lines, thereby causing power disruptions and road barricades. The program removed 4,000 adult and juvenile albizia trees over the past two years and now considers this invasive species as fully controlled.

At Kekaha Firing Range, nearly 20 percent of the training site was overrun by long-thorn kiawe, an invasive, noxious tree that can grow to 30 feet tall with long thorns capable of piercing shoes and truck tires. Over the past two years, approximately 5,000 plants were removed; each was capable of producing thousands of seeds per year.

People enjoy strawberry guava fruit. Feral pigs do, too, which contributes to the trees’ spread. Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the NRC Program introduced a biological control agent using a scale insect, Tectococcus ovatus, to reduce fruit production.

Eradicating invasive and/or non-native species means less pesticide use and more accessible training land. It also benefits wildlife that relies on native forests, such as the endangered Hawaiian hawk and Hawaiian hoary bat.The NRC Program’s success was due in large part to its use of goat and sheep grazing. This cost- and resource-effective approach slashed herbicide use, safeguarded sensitive habitat and enabled reopening 46 acres of the Keaukaha Military Reservation for training.

About half of the site’s 504 acres are endangered lowland wet forest ecosystems, which are thriving in harmony with military readiness activities due to the NRC Program’s innovative approach to ecosystem management.

HIARNG began using grazing animals on 46 acres with a portable paddock and a herd of 194 animals in 2016. Goats and sheep clear an average of one acre a day, including on terrain that is difficult for machines to access. Grazing herds also reduce fire fuel loads, thereby minimizing interruptions in training.Elephant grass grows at a rate of 1 foot per week with the rainy conditions of KMR, so keeping areas cleared for Soldier training is essential.

The NRC Program also partners with Invasive Species Committees, the University of Hawaii, the U.S. Geological Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure invasive species management goes hand-in-hand with forest restoration, data collection and wildlife habitat improvement. The goal of the NRC Program is to reduce invasive species on military training land while improving the health and longevity of native ecosystems.

Many installations could adopt similar strategies for invasive species management. Avoiding the cost and the risks of herbicides and returning acreage to training access more quickly is a win-win for natural resources and for HIARNG.

“The innovative techniques and the dedicated staff of the HIARNG Environmental office have saved the department money and preserved Hawaii’s installations,” said Karl Motoyama, Environmental program manager. “We are working to both prepare our Soldiers for their missions and to be responsible stewards of our lands for our future generations.”

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