On February 12, Natural Area Reserves System Commissioners, state and Army staff, and a few members of the public trekked the long, sandy road through Ka`ena State Park and the Ka`ena NAR to see firsthand where the U.S. Army’s environmental program has been controlling weeds to stabilize a population of the endangered Ka`ena `akoko (Chamaesyce celastriodes, var. keanana).
The `akoko, a low-lying shrub with pale green leaves, is found at a few sites in Makua Valley, where the Army is proposing to conduct live-fire training, and it’s one of roughly 30 endangered species the Army is being required to protect outside of Makua.
Standing at the base of a long stretch of rocky hillside inside the Ka`ena NAR, located at the northwestern tip of O`ahu, Army resource manager Jane Beachy explained how she and other environmental program staff have been hand-pulling invasive grass and other weeds and spraying herbicides to help the `akoko thrive.
Under a kind of handshake agreement, the Army has been conducting endangered species work for several years on NARs and other state land and their work, at least at Ka`ena, seems to be beneficial. But recently, the Department of Land and Natural Resources has been advised by one of its deputy attorneys general that the Army needs a special use permit from the NARS Commission if it is to continue its work.
In 1999, in response to a lawsuit by Malama Makua and a subsequent consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army assembled a Makua Implementation Plan team to come up with a plan to protect many of the valley’s rare species. Over the years, that team devised a plan which, when implemented, would mitigate possible effects of Army training on the most vulnerable endangered plant and animal species. Although the plan has changed over time and has not yet been made public, the Army’s environmental program crew has for years been working with the DLNR to meet minimum population goals set forth in the plan.
“Last year, we found informal wasn’t working,” O`ahu branch NARS manager Brent Liesemeyer told the NARS Commission last month. In the beginning, Liesemeyer said, the Army’s environmental program had only four our five people that NARS staff knew and trusted. That program now has 27 people, millions of dollars to spend on management, and is overwhelming his staff of three, he said.
“We should have made it formal before. We didn’t,” he said.
Over the last year, NARS and Army staff have been discussing what should be included in a Special Use Permit, which will cover the Army’s activities over the next year, and what should be put into a Memorandum of Agreement, which will cover all other state lands where the Army is conducting, or is planning to conduct, endangered species and habitat management. NARS staff has also suggested that the MOA cover activities in the endangered plant nursery at the Pahole NAR. (According to DOFAW staff, the Army is using 80 to 90 percent of the nursery.)
At the NARS Commission’s February meeting, staff requested approval of a Special Use Permit to the Army for endangered plant and snail recovery actions in the Ka`ena, Ka`ala, and Pahole NARs. The actions include monitoring, surveying, fence and road maintenance, seed collection, goat control, weed control, fence building, marking and recapturing Achatinella snails, pest eradication, and the reintroduction of seven plant species in Pahole.
Given concerns NARS staff had raised in the past about the Army doing too much work in the reserves, Commissioner Jim Jacobi asked staff whether any of the proposed actions were inappropriate.
“[The NARS] should not be a dumping ground for somebody else’s problems,” he said.
With the exception of the Army’s request to collect of air-layers and cuttings, O`ahu NARS staff assured the commission that they were comfortable with the Army’s request.
With that, the commission approved the Army’s permit, and included a condition that the Army will be allowed to take seeds for propagation, but no air-layers or cuttings.
“I’m okay with the permit, but there are other issues I’d like to have resolved sooner than later,” O`ahu NARS resource manager Talbert Takahama told the commission before its vote on the Army’s permit.
Takahama was referring to the draft MOA that seemed to have made little headway since it was first mentioned to the commission last year. The MOA is intended to resolve the state’s concerns about whether the Army will help the state control fire on its property and meet NARS management goals, among other things.
Takahama noted that Army staff don’t ask he wants them to plant at Pahole, they tell him what they want to plant. “I don’t think the action is something we wouldn’t do at some point. It’s a philosophical difference,” about how actions are driven, he said.
Commission chair Dale Bonar asked the Army’s Michelle Mansker about the status of the MOA.
It’s still being hammered out, she said, adding that she had drafted an MOA for the state to review and the state returned it with its revisions, which have not been accepted by her higher-ups.
Because larger Army issues are involved, “The higher-ups need to come together,” she said. And Takahama agreed.
“Without the higher level of agreement, I can’t foresee future renewal of the [special use] permit,” he said.
In any case, the Makua Implementation Plan would need to go through the environmental review process before an MOA is brought to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, said Paul Conry, administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Mansker says the environmental assessment for the plan will be published this month.
“The permit will give us one year to put the MOA in place,” Conry said.
Experimental Forest Proposed
In Laupahoehoe, Pu`u Wa`awa`a
“When you start something like this, it needs to be made clear who’s doing what,” said NARS Commissioner Sheila Conant of the U.S. Forest Service’s proposal to establish what it calls the Hawai`i Experimental Tropical Forest, which, if approved, will include the Laupahoehoe NAR,
adjacent Hilo Forest Reserve lands, and the Pu`u Wa`awa`a dry forest.
Experimental forests have been established throughout the country by the U.S. Forest Service, but not yet in Hawai`i. These forests, driven by the 1992 Tropical Forest Recovery Act, are intended to be centers for long-term research and demonstrational and educational activities aimed at helping resource managers better manage forests.
According to documents submitted to the NARS Commission, Hawai`i’s experimental forest will cost about $4.5 million to establish, about $300,000 a year to staff, and will require the building of roads, a five- to 10-room dormitory and water catchment systems in the Laupahoehoe wet forest, a research laboratory, the upgrade of houses at Pu`u Wa`awa`a, trail-cutting, and the establishment of power systems in both the dry and wet forest sites.
“Where’s all this stuff going to go?” asked NARS commissioner Pat Conant. Flint Hughes, a NARS commissioner who also works for the Forest Service, assured Conant that no construction or trail building would be done in the NAR. The buildings, said Division of Forestry and Wildlife administrator Paul Conry, could be built on state agricultural land nearby.
Commissioner Rebecca Alakai asked whether tree harvesting, a proposed activity, is planned for the Laupahoehoe NAR.
Hughes said that the Forest Service plans to do some koa thinning in the forest reserve, but not in the NAR.
“The point of the NAR is to be a control site,” he said.
While Hughes may have alleviated the fears of some commissioners about increased activity in the NAR, Richard Hoeflinger, the commission’s hunting representative, said that the hunting community would not be happy with activities in the forest reserve that would reduce hunting areas.
Hawai`i branch NARS manager Lisa Hadway told the commission she was generally supportive of the experimental forest coming to Laupahoehoe. Because the NAR is already part of a larger management partnership, maintaining it is not a high priority for her crew, she said. Before any work relating to the experimental forest begins, however, “a lot of general baseline research needs to be done,” she said.
Except for Hughes, who recused himself from voting, the commission unanimously approved the Forest Service’s conceptual plans at its February meeting.
TNCH’s Waikamoi Plan
“The Nature Conservancy worked itself out of a job,” Natural Area Reserves System program manager Randy Kennedy said at last month’s NARS Commission meeting, referring to the organization’s shrinking budget to manage its Waikamoi Preserve in east Maui.
As part of its long-range management plan for fiscal years 2007 to 2012, The Nature Conservancy of Hawai`i is requesting state Natural Area Partnership Program funding of about $1.3 million, about $700,000 less than they’ve received over the last six years. (The state’s NAPP program provides a $2-to-$1 match to private landowners who commit to conservation management on their properties.)
TNCH, which has an easement from Haleakala Ranch to manage the Waikamoi Preserve, recently presented its plans for the next six years of management to the NARS Commission for approval.
According to its plan, TNCH’s Maui crew has reduced pig disturbance in the 5,230-acre preserve to nearly zero, and contained seven weed species. It’s also assisted the East Maui Watershed Partnership, which has its own small staff, with fence building and threat abatement.
Right now, TNCH’s Melissa Chimera told the commission, TNCH-Maui staff and the East Maui Watershed Partnership staff are “sort of one big family.”
TNCH is requesting about $220,000 a year in NAPP funds to continue managing Waikamoi. In the past, TNCH has received between $220,000 and $348,000 a year.
Because TNCH has been so successful managing Waikamoi, Kennedy explained, NAPP funds that used to go to Waikamoi will be diverted to the East Maui Watershed Partnership.
The commission ultimately approved the long-range management plan, subject to budget negotiations regarding overhead, but not before commissioner Jim Jacobi expressed concern about the conservancy’s monitoring efforts.
When state botanist Vickie Caraway asked Chimera how management actions were affecting rare plant populations, Chimera responded, “That’s a piece we’re working on…We haven’t been able to afford formal monitoring for rare plants.”
To this, commissioner Jacobi said he’d like to see more investment in monitoring.
“I would recommend folding it into your budget…For some things, anecdotal works. A lot of the time, it doesn’t,” he said, adding that monitoring allows people to analyze how well money is being spent.
Chimera noted that TNCH has done an exhaustive review of its program, but is struggling with conducting monitoring without taking resources away from threat reduction.
— Teresa Dawson
Volume 16, Number 9 March 2006