Maui News

Firebreaks to be Installed in Pōhākea Watershed in Mā‘alaea Starting Dec. 7

December 7, 2020, 7:15 AM HST
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Māʻalaea, Maui. PC: Maui Nui Marine Resource Council

As part of its ongoing work to improve ocean water quality in Māʻalaea Bay, the nonprofit Maui Nui Marine Resource Council is working in partnership with Goodfellow Bros. in the Pōhākea watershed to install firebreaks to suppress wildfires and prevent sediment-laden runoff into the ocean.

The work will begin on Monday, Dec. 7 and will continue through Dec. 18. The Pōhākea watershed is a 5,268 acre area with the majority located mauka of the Honoapiʻilani Highway across from the Mā‘alaea Triangle.

The grant-funded firebreak installations will take place on both private and publicly owned land (State of Hawai‘i Land Division) with approval and cooperation from the landowners and the State. The planning for this work was done in collaboration with the State of Hawai‘i DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife as part of a larger conservation management strategy for the watershed.

Wildfire suppression was listed as a high priority in the “Pōhākea Watershed Stormwater Management Plan,” an action plan for reducing sediment runoff into Māʻalaea Bay authored by Maui Environmental Consulting and commissioned by Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. Past wildfires in the Pōhākea watershed have been a health and safety issue for the community and have caused the loss of vegetative covering in the watershed, leading to soil erosion during heavy rains.

A firebreak is a gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a wildfire. Firebreaks are strategically located to ultimately reduce the size, intensity, and impact of wildfires. In this case, the work focuses on restoring firebreak functionality to existing access roads, including the reestablishment of waterbars and stormwater erosion control measures along the unmaintained dirt roads. The creation of firebreaks will help reduce the impact of wildfires and the erosion mitigation measures will preserve access for firefighting.

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“We are very pleased to work with the professional team of Goodfellow Bros. of Maui to install these firebreaks,” said Mike Fogarty, Acting Executive Director at Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “The Goodfellow Bros. team will be following established best management practices (BMPs) to install the firebreaks with the least impact to the surrounding area. And of course, all State and County COVID-19 guidelines for outdoor work of this type will be strictly adhered to by all who are working on this project.”

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This project is supported by funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Hawai‘i Tourism through the Aloha ‘Āina Program, and the County of Maui Office of Economic Development. Local funding from individuals, businesses, resorts and foundations have also helped to make this work possible.

After the firebreaks are installed, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council will be working with volunteers to plant vetiver, a non-invasive, deep rooted, clump grass used in tropical climates, along with native dry-land species, to stabilize hillsides and stop erosion. Additional work planned by Maui Nui Marine Resource Council includes fuel breaks (vegetation buffers) of up to 30 feet on both sides of the firebreaks and routine vegetation maintenance to keep fire fuel load low.

“The work to reduce sediment runoff from the Pohakea watershed is tied to our vision of cleaner ocean water for Māʻalaea Bay,” says Amy Hodges, Programs and Operations Manager at Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “It’s a multi-pronged approach that also includes installations of caged oysters in the bay to remove sediment and other pollutants from the water.”

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“Our goal is to create an environment where the coral reefs of Māʻalaea Bay can thrive and thus help protect the shoreline of Māʻalaea from storm surge and big waves,” says Hodges. “We also want clean ocean water for the people who use this bay for recreation.”

Hodges notes that Māʻalaea Bay is home to two canoe clubs, several popular local beaches and a much-frequented fishing area. Māʻalaea Harbor is a launching place for private and commercial ocean tours, and is famous for its “Freight Trains” surf break. Sea turtles feed outside the harbor, and visiting Hawaiian monk seals, hammerhead sharks, sea turtles and a variety of fish are not uncommon.

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