Aerial surveys were recently completed of more than 1 million acres of ‘ohi‘a forest being potentially impacted by the fungal disease rapid ‘ohi‘a death, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced Tuesday.
The surveys were done on Hawaii Island, Kauai and parts of east Maui.
The overflights conducted by the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science in Hilo utilized a high-tech turboprop aircraft loaded with sophisticated mapping and detection equipment.
The $250,000 surveys were funded by the Hawaii Tourism Authority as one of several ROD initiatives HTA is supporting to help educate people about the disease.
Data from the surveys is being analyzed to determine how far ROD has spread.
“During this week of the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, it’s important for us all to be mindful of the natural and cultural significance of ‘ohi‘a lehua as our keystone native tree species for protecting Hawaii’s forests and watersheds,” said Kalani Ka‘ana‘ana, HTA’s director of Hawaiian Cultural Affairs, in a DLNR statement. “ROD is devastating hundreds of thousands of acres of native forest. Forests are life-giving in Hawaii in a multitude of ways. They are often the first image visitors see when flying into Hawaii, and it’s critical we do everything possible to keep them healthy.”
DLNR and its partners conduct regular “sketch mapping” aerial surveys of ‘ohi‘a forests across the state to detect new disease outbreaks. These surveys are done from helicopters, but the data collected by ASU’s high-altitude aerial platform is much more precise and provides highly accurate location data on trees suspected to be infected with ROD.
“The HTA support has helped expand our outreach to visitors who could potentially move ROD from island to island and allowed us to utilize state-of-the art forest monitoring technologies to better map the disease,” said Rob Hauff, State Protection Forester, for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
Over the past year, Hawaii Tourism Authority has provided more than $400,000 in funding support for numerous ROD initiatives, including $20,000 for trailhead sanitation stations and signs, $20,000 for bio-sanitation workshops for eco-tour operators, as well as support for the annual ‘Ohi‘a Love Fest in Hilo.