Researchers study links between reforestation and culture

LIHUE, Kauai — Researchers are looking into a reforestation method that may restore the cultural connection and natural balance of native forests.

The approach incorporates the traditional relationship the Hawaiian community has with forests instead of just looking to restore ecological health to an area.

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The new method could potentially save money, researchers said.

National Tropical Botanical Garden Kauai research associate Dr. Kawika Winter, in collaboration with the University of Hawaii at Manoa, explored the idea at Kauai’s North Shore Limahuli Garden and Preserve. The newly released paper on the concept looks at manager-defined ecological, hydrologic and cultural metrics of success, and long-term management costs and how they vary across different restoration strategies.

“These results can be used by conservation practitioners to guide management actions, and to bring the community back into the forest while improving multiple ecological and social benefits; and do all this at lower costs than programs focused solely on historical restoration goals,” said Winter, director of Limahuli Garden and Preserve in Haena.

The Limahuli Garden and Preserve has the most biodiverse ecosystem in the Hawaiian archipelago, University of Hawaii scholars said.

Researchers also looked at other forests at various levels of restoration.

They concluded that hybrid restorations not only increase cultural values and resilience to natural disasters, they are also cheaper than achieving a “pre-human” state.

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“Restoring forests to a pre-human state on a landscape scale has been idealized. But given the amount of functional diversity that has gone extinct in Hawaii, such an approach is almost impossible, ecologically speaking,” Winter said.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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