Native Roots

After one of Hawaii’s most devastating forest fires, Maui’s Kula Forest Reserve gets a second life.

In November, native seedlings grown by Ethan Romanchak (left) and Jonathan Keyser will be planted in the devastated Kula Forest Reserve.

photo by Nina Lee

A few years ago, i was sitting in a New York City subway when I noticed a clever Metro sign that read, “Sometimes You Have to Go Backwards to Go Forward”—a positive little phrase that explained the transportation hiccups caused by construction. I was reminded of this slogan when I heard about the massive reforestation effort in Upper Waiohuli on Maui.

From Jan. 23 through Feb. 5, firefighters battled a blaze that burned 2,300 acres of Maui’s Kula Forest Reserve, one of the most devastating fires Hawaii had seen in decades. The culprit? A cigarette butt.

But here’s the upside. Starting in the 1930s, cypress, redwood, eucalyptus and pine trees were planted in what were then open lands. This year, Maui’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife will reforest 1,500 of the most severely burned acres, transforming them into a mostly native ecosystem. Thanks to emergency state funding, roughly 150,000 native trees and shrubs—including koa, ohia and mamane—will be planted. “This is really exciting, because we are putting in more natives than were there before the burn,” says Lance De Silva, resource protection forester for the division.

The Native Nursery, located in Kula and owned by Ethan Romanchak and partner Jonathan Keyser, will grow all of the native seedlings, with the first batch scheduled for planting on Nov. 1. Seeds will come from the Kula Forest Reserve and the Leeward Haleakala areas. “If the host plant is there, then we are hoping that the birds and insects will also have a home,” Romanchak says.

The only non-natives that will be planted will be 57,000 redwood trees, grown by two West Coast nurseries. Redwoods “are more fire-resistant,” De Silva says. “They are not invasive, and they actually suppress invasive weeds under their canopy.”

The reforestation effort should be complete by May 2008. “This will be the largest single forestry planting in about 90 years on Maui,” Romanchak says. “It’s turning out to be a kind of a renaissance of forestry in Hawaii.”