Connecting with the land: Students, volunteers plant 160 koa trees in Kaloko mauka

  • Dr. Richard Stevens, center, and some of his voulynteers and students pose for a photo after planting 160 koa seedlings Saturday in the Honua’ula Forest Reserve Makaula ‘O’oma tract. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kalena Kelii, left and Iwalani Harris came from Hilo to plant koa seedlings Saturday at Honua’ula Forest Reserve Makaula ‘O’oma tract. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Koa seedlings are ready to be planted Saturday at Honua’ula Forest Reserve Makaula ‘O’oma tract. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Fletcher and Sabastian Lambert plant koa seedlings Saturday at Honua’ula Forest Reserve Makaula ‘O’oma tract. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Palamanui student Christian Kealiilani plants a koa seedling Saturday at Honua’ula Forest Reserve Makaula ‘O’oma tract. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Marcia Stone and John Hoover of Volcano plant koa seedlings Saturday at Honua’ula Forest Reserve Makaula ‘O’oma tract. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Honua‘ula Forest Reserve Makaula ‘O‘oma tract welcomed the addition of new koa trees Saturday as students and volunteers planted seedlings in the cloud forest located in Kaloko mauka.

Dr. Richard Stevens, history professor at Hawaii Community College — Palamanui led about 30 of his students and volunteers up the trail, located at about the 2,500-foot elevation, to plant 160 of the endemic trees.

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“We have been planting up there since 2003, when we got the permission from the (state DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife to restore the upper canopy in that forest,” said Stevens. “All the koa trees had disappeared in 1,250 acres of the state forest up there.”

Stevens explained ohia, which is plentiful in the reserve, has a very narrow canopy but with the koa gone, with their big umbrella canopy, there was a big piece of the ecology missing.

Kristin Lambert was one of the volunteers who came to plant the trees with her two children.

“I’ve been looking for an opportunity to connect with the land and get the children involved,” she said as her boys found the perfect spot to plant their seedlings.

Also at the planting was a group from Bridge House fulfilling their “act of community service.”

Brenda Lee said she was ready to take the challenge.

“I really enjoyed doing this,” she said. “It was very refreshing to go to the mountain, very peaceful. Agriculture is a big part of our recovery. We take so much from the community, it’s our way to give back.”

Stevens said many volunteers have taken part over the years, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, students and “lots of other people in the community.”

“We have had a lot of wonderful allies,” he said.

Since Stevents started planting the trees with his students, over 60,000 seedlings have been cultivated in various places around West Hawaii. He first sowed seedlings in 1990, marking the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. That day, they planted 10,000 trees in Kohala.

“The whole community turned out for that,” he recalled. “That was the kickoff of our planting projects and we have been doing it ever since.”

The seedlings planted Saturday came from the state tree nursery in Waimea. In return, Stevens gathers seeds during the out-plantings to replenish the state’s stock.

“It is the perfect place for koa to be returning,” he said, explaining the afternoon mist and rain provides water for the keiki trees. “They just love it up there so we have a really high success rate.”

Stevens said everyone in his class has to do 24 hours of “love and service to the land” every semester, which comprises one-third of their grade.

“They love it. They are totally primed for this,” he said.

Because his class can now be accessed online, Stevens said his students are doing this service all over the island.

“Governor Ige and Suzanne Case (DLNR chairperson) last week announced by 2030, the state will have planted, conserved and restored 100 million trees as part of the global effort to do the same thing with one trillion trees,” said Stevens. “I think it’s pretty amazing our state is going to be making a significant contribution to this effort. There are great things happening out there because so many people really know we have to do something for the ‘aina.”

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Stevens said everyone should be planting trees.

“The Earth needs trees,” he said.

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