Volcano Watch — Developing partnerships to conserve Hawai`i's natural resources

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The Hawaiian Islands are home to thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Protecting these native species against the many threats to their survival - including habitat destruction and invasions of alien species—is a significant challenge, but also an important goal.

Landowners and natural resource managers realize that the management of large, continuous areas of native ecosystems is an effective and cost-effective means to conserve and protect Hawai'i's native species. Since ecosystem boundaries rarely coincide with land ownership boundaries, partnerships between private, state, and federal landowners are playing a critical role in conserving native habitats. This allows for the opportunity to manage the natural resources and control threats to their conservation across the landscape without regard for political or ownership boundaries within the designated partnership area.

One such partnership—the `Ola`a-Kīlauea Management Area on the island of Hawai'i—offers an unparalleled opportunity to preserve a large continuous area with relatively intact native ecosystems. This management program will not only help ensure the survival of a large number of endangered plant and bird species found in the `Ola`a-Kīlauea area, but will help keep the populations of other native species from declining.

The `Ola`a-Kīlauea Management area includes approximately 32,000 acres of land in the upper sections of the `Ola`a and Waiakea Forests above the town of Volcano. The partnership includes lands owned or controlled by four different entities: Kamehameha Schools, Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kulani Correctional Facility under the Hawai'i Department of Public Safety, and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Other members of the partnership include the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service, who among them provide both research and management resources to the project.

The partnership area includes some of the best remaining intact native forest ecosystems on the island, with large tracts of koa and `ohi`a rain forests and a series of upland bog communities. These highly diverse natural communities provide essential habitat for four endangered forest bird species, including `akiapola`au, Hawai`i creeper, Hawai'i `akepa, and the `o`u. Additionally, two other endangered birds - the `io or Hawaiian hawk and nene - and Hawai`i's only native land mammal, the ope`ope`a or Hawaiian hoary bat, also frequent the area. Twenty-two rare plant species, including ten endangered species, are also found within the project area.

Management efforts within the `Ola`a-Kīlauea partnership area have been focused on control of impacts of alien species on the native ecosystems, restoration of rare plant species found in the area, and restoration of the plant communities that form the matrix in which both the rare and common native species of plants and animals are found.

An added benefit of the partnership is the opportunity to provide both vocational training and environmental educational opportunities for the staff and inmates of the Kulani Correctional Facility. Kulani inmate crews have been instrumental in constructing the many miles of fencing that are necessary to keep the management areas clear of feral pig populations. The inmates have also worked on many of the weed control projects and have recently become involved with the growing and outplanting of both rare and common native plant species as part of the species and ecosystem restoration programs. Over the past two years, they have helped with the reintroduction of over 2,000 rare Mauna Loa silversword plants into the bog and open forest habitats in the Kulani Correctional Facility.

Despite the many challenges involved with conservation of the natural resources in Hawai'i, the partners involved in the `Ola`a-Kīlauea partnership agree that the commitment of time and energy to this project is well worth the effort. Their hope is that these endeavors will not only result in the protection of the important natural resources within this priceless piece of native Hawai'i, but also will serve as a model for use in other equally deserving areas of the islands.

Volcano Activity Update

Eruptive activity of Kīlauea Volcano continued unabated at the Pu`u `O`o vent during the past week. Surface flows are commonly visible on Pulama pali, not spectacular in the daylight but inspiring after dark. Lava is filling the low areas at the base of the pali, and the flow front has advanced to within 0.8 km (0.5 mi) of the sea coast in the direction of Kamokuna.

There were no earthquakes reported felt during the week ending on January 18.