Workshop Examines Private Use Of Commercially Grown Rare Plants

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If you want to do something good with your land, like restore native species to an area, there’s a lot of government money out there for you to do it. But figuring out which programs are right for you, and then following the proper application and permitting procedures can not only be confusing, a wrong step could get you in trouble.

For example, using threatened or endangered plants bought from a local nursery in a restoration project is illegal. Endangered plants that are sold commercially are allowed only in “gardens,” because planting them in the wild could introduce diseases, pests, or new genes to wild populations. But this hasn’t stopped applicants seeking funding for restoration projects from including endangered plants from Home Depot in their proposed budgets.

Obviously, some educating needs to be done. On March 13, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i, took a first stab with the Landowner Assistance: Environmental Conservation and Restoration workshop at Windward Community College.

Private individuals and representatives from various government agencies, Ka`ala Farm, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Kualoa Ranch, the Ko`olau Mountain Watershed Partnership, Grove Farm, and The Nature Conservancy of Hawai`i, attended the workshop.

One of the workshop’s first speakers was state botanist Vickie Caraway, who explained permitting requirements regarding the use of threatened and endangered species. Because state permits are needed to collect endangered species from all land (except for federal land) and because commercially sold plants are only allowed in gardens, Caraway said that the biggest hurdle to private endangered species restoration is finding a legal source of plants.

“You’d need to partner with the state, the feds, or the county,” she said.

Daniel Sailer, a resource manager with TNC on O`ahu, questioned the need for that requirement.

“I don’t see why private growers are bad. What’s the difference between TNC growing it or us giving seed to Matt and Rick?” he asked. (Matt Schirman and Rick Barboza run the native plant nursery Hui Ku Maoli Ola, which sells some of its plants to Home Depot.)

After some discussion, Caraway suggested that contracting with a commercial nursery, like Hui Ku, to grow endangered plants from legally obtained sources was not the same as buying plants, and that those obtained from a contractor under these circumstances could be planted in the wild.

In response to questions about using commercially grown endangered plants for outdoor educational projects or in gardens that are in a nature-like setting (i.e., the Fong Plantation or Kualoa Ranch in east O`ahu), Caraway said, “It goes back to your purpose, collection versus restoration.” As long as the plants aren’t being put in the natural habitat where they are found in the wild, landowners can use store-bought plants, she said.

— Teresa Dawson

Volume 16, Number 10 April 2006