Maui News

Groundbreaking Agreement Seeks Restoration of Koa Forests

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Koa seedling © Rob Shallenberger/TNC

The Nature Conservancy and Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods entered a groundbreaking agreement that aims to to restore Hawai’i’s dwindling koa forests.

The agreement is also expected to benefit other native forests in the state.

Koa is one of the world’s most valuable tropical hardwoods, and is considered by some the “mother tree” of the Hawaiian forest.  The koa tree, provided ancient Hawaiians with timber for building canoes, spears, bowls, construction materials and even fishhooks. In the forest, it creates a broad canopy, providing a protected zone for understory plants.

“As a dominant canopy tree, koa can form the framework for biological restoration,” said Sam ‘Ohu Gon III, the Conservancy’s Senior Scientist and Cultural Advisor.


Populations of koa have been depleted by a combination of feral cattle, land clearing activities, and invasive pests, as well as unsustainable harvesting.

HLH Koa nursery © Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods

“Over time, the loss and removal of this monarch tree, with no replanting, has diminished our koa forests and the quality of other native forests,” said Suzanne Case, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i executive director. “This partnership seeks to address both of those concerns,” she said.

Since 2008, Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods has been working to aggressively replant koa on hundreds of acres of land that was once a koa-dominated forest.

The reforestation project was launched at the Big Island’s Kūka‘iau Ranch, on Mauna Kea.


Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods CEO Jeff Dunster said the company operates on both a conservation model and a commercial one.

Under the conservation model, participants invest in the financing of tree planting to ensure the trees are never harvested.  Under the commercial model, trees are financed at $60 each and eventually logged with donations of $1 going to The Nature Conservancy, and $20 to the charity of the donor’s choice.

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods has promised The Nature Conservancy a $50,000 minimum contribution annually, beginning this year.

The legacy tree program also includes a scannable electronic chip that is placed in the ground where the tree is planted. The chip contains the serial number of the tree and is linked with its GPS coordinates in a database along with information on when it was planted, the name of the donor, and the name of the individual the tree was planted to honor.


All money donated to The Nature Conservancy will be used to preserve existing native forests. “It’s a partnership that is both helping to create new koa forests and preserve existing native forests,” said John Henshaw, the Conservancy’s director of Land Protection and Conservation Partnerships.

“You’re not just growing a tree, you’re helping to grow an entire forest,” said Dunster.

Crews planted some 20,000 trees on 40 acres in its first year, and 35,000 trees on 84 acres in its second year. This winter season 150,000 koa trees will be planted on 322 acres, and another 300,000 trees will be planted during the 2012-2013 season.

“Once we get the koa forest re-established, it becomes the nursery for other species. We have found elsewhere that if we can get the koa forest back, other natives reappear, including some of the native bird species,” said Henshaw.

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods is planting other native forest species on other legacy lands, including māmane, naio, ‘ōhi‘a and ‘iliahi or sandalwood.

*** Posted by Wendy Osher; information courtesy The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i.


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