Maui Activities

Pōhakuokalā Gulch Community Forest Restoration Project Plants 500 Native Trees, Removes Nearly 2,000 Invasive Trees

January 16, 2021, 9:36 AM HST
* Updated January 21, 10:37 AM
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  • PC: Joe Imhoff.
  • PC: Joe Imhoff.
  • PC: Joe Imhoff.
  • PC: Danny Boren.
  • Before tree clearing. PC: Joe Imhoff.
  • After tree clearing. PC: Joe Imhoff.
  • Overhead view before tree clearing. PC: Cody Lang.
  • Overhead view after tree clearing. PC: William Brittain Msssey.
  • PC: Sara Tekula.
  • ʻŌhiʻa sapling. PC: Sara Tekula.

The Pōhakuokalā Gulch Community Forest Restoration Project removed nearly 2,000 invasive eucalyptus trees and replanted 500 native Hawaiian trees in its place between September and December of 2020 in Kula.

The completed phase marks a new milestone in restoring and regenerating Pōhakuokalā Gulch, which is an important watershed in Upper Kula. The project also created jobs for the unemployed in 2020.

The forest restoration project is a program of Nā Koa Manu Conservation and Skyline Conservation Initiative, located at the site of the Skyline Hawai‘i zipline tour on Haleakalā Ranch in Kula.

Thanks to partnership support provided by Skyline Hawai‘i, Haleakalā Ranch and Kupu Hawai‘i. Significant funding was provided by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and the County of Maui’s Office of Economic Development, offsetting the project’s expenses. 

Led by project manager and longtime Maui land steward Joseph Imhoff of Skyline Conservation Initiative, the Pōhakuokalā Gulch project aims to convert a degraded watershed–marked by an intermittent stream bed that has been overtaken by invasive Eucalyptus globulus trees–into a 100% native forest ecosystem and species habitat.

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This latest milestone in the project, covering several acres of land, is a major step in that direction. Imhoff notes that it couldn’t have happened in 2020 without generosity and collaboration. 

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“It’s no easy task to take down and process such large invasive trees like Eucalyptus,” he said, “and with COVID restrictions, it’s been nearly impossible to organize our usual volunteer workdays to replant the land. Thanks to our awesome partners, not only were we able to pay for the heavy equipment and skilled arborists to remove the trees and process them, we were also able to create jobs. Through the Kupu project, I was blessed with four full-time, paid teammates who came off of unemployment to work with me on preparing the land and planting over 500 trees. This has been a wonderful win-win situation for Maui. Throughout this past year, I’ve been saying that ‘conservation is essential’ and this is a perfect example of what that means.” 

Since its inception in 2002, Pōhakuokalā Gulch restoration project has organized the planting of over 13,000 native trees on site by more than 4,000 community volunteers. Invasive Eucalyptus have been removed from a total of ten acres of land over the years, and many of the native trees planted were propagated from seeds collected at remnant old growth tree sites nearby. Visitors to the Skyline Hawai‘i zipline can now hike under a canopy of native koa, sandalwood, and ‘ōhi‘a trees. 

“Skyline Hawai‘i has been funding the restoration of Pōhakuokalā Gulch since the Haleakalā zipline tour opened in 2002,” said Danny Boren, founder and president of Skyline Hawai‘i. “Now we have 501c3 partner Na Koa Manu Conservation and have been able to match tourism funds with grants and contracts from federal, state, and county funding partners which have accelerated this watershed restoration effort in a monumental way.” 

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Building on that recent momentum, the project will continue planting efforts in 2021 with the planting of 4,000 native trees in the newly cleared areas. As COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings allow, Skyline Conservation Initiative will schedule volunteer work days for anyone who would like to spend time safely planting trees outdoors. Interested volunteers can sign up online.

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