SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - What do a hunter, an artist and a high school student have in common' The Oahu Army Natural Resources Program (OANRP) recently learned the answer - a desire to know more about their natural environment and a willingness to devote invaluable time to this cause.

Natural Resources also has learned that providing educational opportunities to the public is reciprocated by dedicated volunteers providing help to OANRP staff.

As a Directorate of Public Works environmental program, Natural Resources aims to conserve and protect endangered species on Army training lands here. Hawaii is home to more endangered species than any other state in the U.S. and 80 percent of Hawaii's endangered species live on Army training lands.

The work is strenuous, the goals are impressive, yet the staff is small.

Roughly a dozen staff regularly hike miles of trails across hundreds of acres of land on the island's two mountain ranges. Each person hauls the tools of the trade: hand saws, pruners, shovels, herbicide and, occasionally, a chain saw.

The staff considers the work rewarding; however, at times it can seem overwhelming. Hence, Natural Resources ramped up two of its valuable mainstays in 2007 - education and volunteers.

OANRP created an outreach plan that builds on the momentum already established by Oahu's conservation community. Barely a year into development, the plan has already inspired more than 30 volunteer service trips into the forests of Oahu's Waianae Mountain Range.

The program is structured so that volunteers work for several hours, and in return, OANRP staff teaches them about the area's natural history.

The reciprocal relationship began with only a few volunteers and but has blossomed into more than 200 regular volunteers - many eager to visit these beautiful, isolated areas.
The outreach efforts offer the opportunity to experience one of only two native bogs on Oahu or one of the last remaining mesic forests in Hawaii. Mesic refers to a habitat with a moderate amount of moisture.

At Mount Kaala, part of a rare bog habitat was overrun with an invasive weed deceivingly named "soft rush." Eighty volunteers helped remove 35 large bags - the 33-gallon size - of this sharp and tough weed and then transplanted more than 40 native hapuu tree ferns.

In Kahanahaiki forest, numerous volunteer service trips resulted in weed removal and the planting of more than 500 common native trees, shrubs and ferns, helping restore the forest to a more native state.

Participants in these and other projects have been as diverse as the habitats. Groups have included high school students from a Hawaiian immersion school, middle schoolers from a local school near the OANRP baseyard, college students from the University of Hawaii and Kapiolani Community College, and a hula group.

In addition to its volunteer service trips, OANRP Outreach is working to increase awareness about natural resource issues in the military community. New instruction has been added to the monthly Army Environmental Compliance Officer training curriculum, and young people are learning more about career opportunities in Natural Resources at career fairs.

To date, outreach specialists have reached more than 800 students on Oahu in grades 5-12. Since October 2007, OANRP Outreach volunteer efforts have totaled almost 1,800 volunteer hours or roughly $25,490 worth of free labor, based on the average salary of a Natural Resources field technician.

However, the true value of volunteerism does not have a dollar amount. Endangered habitats are being restored, and the Oahu community is getting the rare opportunity to experience significant ancient and current Hawaiian culture, and to learn about issues affecting endangered species.

Additionally, the Army and the public are cultivating a relationship, the value of which can only be viewed as intrinsic.

Page last updated Thu June 12th, 2008 at 16:49