OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

OHA statement on native tree planting

HONOLULU (October 16, 2019) – In early-September, Dr. Camilo Mora first approached OHA, requesting that we partner with his Carbon Neutrality Challenge, the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) and another organization on a project to plant 10,000 native trees in a single day.

Originally, the native trees were to be planted on a different site, owned by a different landowner.  Ultimately, that arrangement fell through. Dr. Mora asked OHA if we could help the project by stepping in at the last minute to be the new host site for the planting. The event was initially scheduled for October 26, less than two months out from when we were first contacted.

We expressed interest in participating in the project because it aligns with our master plan for our Wahiawā lands, which envisions revitalizing the 511-acre property into a mixture of native forest and culturally aligned agriculture that complements the Kūkaniloko Birthing Stones and connects our people with the ‘āina.

We immediately recognized, however, that we had less than 60 days to coordinate the planting of 10,000 trees with 1,000 volunteers in a single afternoon – something none of the partners had ever done before. Planning the logistics to manage the crowd for that day, including coodinating parking, traffic, security, water stations, porta potties, tents and other public safety and liability considerations, would be a significant challenge in that timeframe.

In addition, reforesting certain portions of the Wahiawā property – essentially transforming what is now a grassy field scarred from more than 100 years of intensive monocrop agriculture into a native forest – would be another significant challenge. Our experts estimated that the survival rate of the trees would be just 10 percent, based on the soil testing at the site.

Further complicating matters, the organization that was originally slated to assist with the volunteer effort recently pulled out of the project.

To be clear, we believe this is a worthwhile and valuable project that aligns with our master plan for our Wahiawā lands.

However, we want to take the necessary time to do this project right, rather than to rush and have it done wrong.  Our priorities are to ensure the safety of the public, protect the cultural sites of the area, and maximize the survival of the native trees. All of this will take additional time to plan.

Therefore, we have postponed the October 26 planting event.

Before we determine whether we can move forward with the project, OHA and UH must finalize an agreement to enable UH and Dr. Mora to access OHA’s property to prepare for the planting of the trees, as well as to monitor and help manage the trees after they are planted.  We will also need to identify who will be responsible for managing the actual tree planting, a job that would include coordinating volunteers.

Again, we understand the value of this project. We believe that if done right, this project could allow us to pilot and refine reforestation techniques that can be applied to other portions of our Wahiawā lands and to the lands of other entities similarly committed to mālama ʻāina. 

About OHA’s Wahiawā Lands

Located in the piko (center) of Oʻahu, the Kūkaniloko Birthing Stones is a sacred Native Hawaiian cultural site where the highest-ranking aliʻi (royalty) were historically born.

In 2012, OHA acquired the 511 acres surrounding Kūkaniloko to protect and preserve the site by providing a buffer against development and ensuring that future uses of the area are consistent with Hawaiian cultural values. Completed in 2018, OHA’s Master Plan for its Wahiawā Lands identifies the following goals for the property: 1) Protect the Birthing Stones Site; 2)

Explore appropriate agriculture; 3) Contribute to food security; and 4) Preserve open space and watershed lands. OHA currently manages these lands and regularly engages and solicits input from The Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā, the longtime stewards of the Kūkaniloko Birthing Stones site.  

Learn more about OHA’s Wahiawā Lands at https://www.oha.org/aina/kukaniloko/.  For more information about the cultural and historical significance of Kūkaniloko, please visit here.

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