Today I get to head out to Hakalau, a national wildlife refuge established in 1985 to protect and manage endangered Hawaiian forest birds and their rain forest habitat. Located on the windward slope of Mauna Kea, the Hakalau Forest Unit supports a diversity of native birds and plants equaled by only one or two other areas in the State of Hawai’i. It is a damp and chilly location, so, as you may notice, I am geared up for warmth.
Much of Hawaii’s native lowland habitat was degraded following the Polynesians’ arrival over a thousand years ago. In the late 18th century, cattle, goats, and European pigs were released into the forests, and hundreds of additional alien plants, animals, and insects have subsequently been introduced. Most lowland plants seen today like the orchid, ginger, and plumeria are aliens or nonnative. Introduced animals such as Mosquitoes, wasps, Small Asian Mongooses, cats, and rats have also harmed Hawaiian habitat and native species.
Grazing pressure by cattle and pigs has resulted in the replacement of Hawaiian plants by more competitive alien grasses and shrubs within the upper portions of Hakalau Forest. Below this pasture area, the native tree canopy is still intact, but the native understory has been replaced by alien grasses, blackberry (Rubus spp.), Banana Poka (Passiflora tarminiana), and English Holly (Ilex aquifolium). The replacement process may have been accelerated by efforts to create more pasture land through bulldozing and burning, and by logging mature trees for timber and fence posts.
Eight of the 14 native bird species occurring at Hakalau are endangered. Thirteen migratory bird species and 20 introduced species, including eight game birds, as well as the endangered ʻopeʻapeʻa (Hawaiian hoary bat, Lasiurus cinereus semotus) also frequent the refuge. Twenty-nine rare plant species are known from the refuge and adjacent lands. Twelve are currently listed as endangered. Two endangered lobelias have fewer than five plants known to exist in the wild.
Hakalau was once a thriving, multiethnic sugar plantation town up until the early 1960s when the plantation originally called Hakalau Plantation Company began to decline. In 1963 it was merged into the Pepeʻekeo Sugar Company, in 1973 merged into the Mauna Kea Sugar Company, and the mill shut down in 1974.
Since 1989, over 400,000 koa, ‘ōhi‘a, and other native plants have been planted in this area as part of the refuge's reforestation program. At the lower elevations - 2,000 to 3,600 feet - the forest is predominately ‘ōhi‘a trees with an understory of nonnative trees and shrubs, such as christmasberry, clidemia, an strawberry guava. Above 3,600 feet, the invasive trees and shrubs drop out and the forest is dominated by ‘ōhi‘a and koa trees with an understory of ferns and native flora. A remnant of dry ‘ōhi‘a forest is found at the highest elevations and includes sandalwood and māmane.
We will be doing service work by planting native species, and getting rid of invasive species. We will also be going on a bird watch! And to a haunted cabin! My only sad point is leaving my hubby and kitties behind. :(
Time for an adventure!