A thousand-acre forest in Ka‘u might be harvested for koa wood for the first time in nearly 30 years.
The Kapapala Koa Canoe Management Area, within the Ka‘u Forest Reserve north of Pahala and west of Volcano, was set aside in 1991 to be sustainably harvested to provide koa wood for various community organizations that build traditional Hawaiian canoes.
Since being established, however, no trees have been harvested because of incomplete information about the state of the area.
That could change soon.
A meeting of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources last week approved a process to solicit bids to conduct an inventory of the 1,257-acre forest in order to gain a more complete understanding of the area’s ecology and how to build a sustainable management plan.
“It’s kind of exciting to finally get to this point,” said Irene Sprecher, forestry program manager for the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
The inventory process will involve a lot of “counting trees,” Sprecher said. Foresters would note the locations of trees that could become viable canoe-building trees in the future, their density and the presence of other flora and fauna species within the area.
“I envision that whatever methodology we use will not be uniform across the entire area,” Sprecher said. “Because if we had to count every tree in the area, that would be extremely expensive.”
Sprecher said the inventory likely will be conducted throughout smaller zones of the area, which would be extrapolated to the management area as a whole.
Until actual bids are submitted to the department, Sprecher said the cost of the inventory cannot be determined, but she estimates it will range between “five and six figures.”
The final bid selection will not be made solely on the basis of cost, Sprecher said, but also will consider the preferences of the canoe-building community on the island.
Sprecher said there are other sources of koa wood for canoe builders, but most of them are on private land. Aggressive logging and land clearing has made koa trees tall enough to be used for canoe building scarce.
The Division of Forestry and Wildlife has, very occasionally, removed hazardous koa trees from the management area and passed them along to canoe builders, but such events have been rare, Sprecher said.
A working group comprised of canoe clubs, cultural practitioners, landowners and conservationists has been working closely with the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service and the Three Mountain Alliance to put together a sustainable management plan, pending the results of the inventory.
“This is just one piece toward putting together what needs to be done,” Sprecher said, explaining that the Division of Forestry and Wildlife also is working with other DLNR divisions to ensure the continued safety and health of the management area.
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