Task force sets sights on Pahoa albizia

Albizia trees grow along Leilani Street in Hilo. (Tribune-Herald file photo)
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The island’s war against albizia will continue into the new year as the Big Island Invasive Species Committee prepares to clear the trees from a street in Pahoa.

After a slow year in the fight against the invasive trees, the Committee is seeking a $300,000 state grant to clear large albizias from Kahakai Boulevard in Pahoa by early next year, said Springer Kaye, manager for BIISC.

Over the past few years, an Albizia Task Force — involving representatives from BIISC, the state Department of Transportation and more — have planned several projects around the island to remove potentially dangerous stands of the invasive albizia trees. One of those projects removed nearly all of the trees lining five miles of the Puainako Street extension by the beginning of 2019.

Early this year, however, the project ran out of funds for planned additional projects, leaving BIISC without any concrete plans for removing the trees, Kaye said.

Next year, Kaye said the task force will seek a grant from the state that will primarily be used to contract arborists to remove larger albizias from Kahakai Boulevard, where the largest of the trees can reach over 150 feet tall, with trunks more than 6 feet in diameter.

The Kahakai project was once scheduled to begin in 2019, before the project’s funding ran out. Kaye said BIISC doesn’t have additional albizia plans for 2020 beyond continuing to raise awareness about the trees.

Although no major albizia projects began this year, the state did pass a law that allows landowners to remove potentially dangerous trees from neighboring properties without having to contact the owner of the land on which the tree is growing.

That law, which went into effect in July, allows landowners to take action against a dangerous tree after making two reasonable attempts to contact the neighboring landowner, and after confirming through an arborist that the tree is dangerous.

Kaye said she does not know of anybody who has inquired at BIISC about taking advantage of the new law, nor does Russell Ruderman, the senator who introduced the bill. However, the law remains a tool available for residents concerned about the potential dangers of the invasive trees, which are prone to shedding heavy limbs and caused significant property and infrastructure damage after Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014.

Although the war on albizia continues, BIISC was able to successfully eradicate one invasive species earlier this year, Kaye said. As of 2019, pampas grass, a tall grass originating from South America, no longer exists on the Big Island.

“It took us about 10 years of surveying on foot, by car and by helicopter, to find the properties where this grass was growing,” Kaye said. “We’ve been working with landowners to get them to agree to let us remove it.”

Kaye said pampas grass is particularly entrenched on other islands, growing even in Haleakala Crater on Maui. Before BIISC’s eradication campaign, the species was even popular in wedding arrangements.

“Pampas grass was not widespread on the island, but it still took 10 years to get rid of,” Kaye said. “So when people look at albizias and wonder why we didn’t get rid of them years ago, we’re trying.”

Kaye recommended residents check plantpono.org to determine what plant species are not invasive on the Big Island before growing anything.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.