Rapid ohia death found in Kalopa park

The Department of Land and Natural Resources said that a quarterly aerial assessment of Big Island forests in late July spotted trees in Kalopa State Recreation Area in Hamakua with symptoms of rapid ohia death.

After the helicopter surveys utilizing digital mobile sketch mapping, ground crews from the Big Island Invasive Species Committee followed up by taking ground samples. Five of the six samples tested positive for one of a pair of fungi associated with the disease that has been killing off native ohia forests.

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The trees were 12 miles from the last known area of infected forest.

“We’re working with the DLNR Division of State Parks to determine next steps which could include felling the diseased trees,” said Bill Stormont of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “This is desirable to limit the potential spread of the disease by dust and frass created by beetles that burrow into infected trees.”

Tree felling only happens if it can be done safely and without harming surrounding trees. It’s ideally done on a rainy day to limit potential airborne dispersal of the fungus. Felling would only happen in the park and not in the adjacent forest reserve, where the tree canopy is too tight to make cutting trees a viable option.

Kalopa State Recreation Area has been closed since mid-July for repairs and upgrades to the park’s cabins and campgrounds. The projects are not expected to be completed until May 2019.

“DOFAW staff will be installing four boot-brush stations at Kalopa this fall,” said Curt Cottrell, state parks administrator. “We’re also collaborating with various partners working on rapid ohia death to potentially install information signs, brochure dispensers and boot-brush stations at other east Big Island parks including Akaka Falls State Park and Lava Tree State Monument.”

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Discussions are underway with an adjacent private landowner to gain access to sample symptomatic trees on that property as well.

Based on on-going aerial surveys, it’s estimated 135,000 acres of ohia forest on the Big Island currently show symptoms of the disease. Earlier this year, the less aggressive strain of the fungus was detected in a relatively small stand of trees on Kauai. So far it has not been discovered on Maui or on Oahu, but regular surveys continue statewide.

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