Partnerships in cultural, natural resource protection drive environmental team’s work in Hawaii

By Thomas Milligan (USAEC)June 17, 2024

Planting in Wai'anae Mountains
1 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Natural resources field supervisor, David Hoppe-Cruz (right), collects empty dibble-tubes while Aaron Pila (left), an NR management field technician, helps to plant hundreds of native plants in the Wai'anae Mountains.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo)
2 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Army Natural Resources Program, O'ahu staff outplant Ka'ala loulu (Pritchardia kaalae) within a management unit that is fenced to keep out goats and pigs, on the Wai'anae mountain range. ANRPO staff have been managing Ka'ala loulu for more than 20 years. While the trees are long-lived, no keiki (immature plants) were seen until staff began controlling rats, which destroy fruit, and goats, which eat seedlings.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo)
Detecting Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles with dogs
3 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle is one of the most damaging insects to coconut palms, their preferred host. The Army Natural Resources Program, O'ahu CRB response team includes several trained dogs, including Rider, who was able to detect CRB breeding in a mulch pile at Schofield Barracks. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
REPI Workshop
4 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A recent REPI workshop on O'ahu included a visit to Ka'ala with representation from numerous agencies, including watershed partnerships, military natural resources programs, and the individuals pictured above (left to right): Sam 'Ohukalani'ōhi'a Gon III, senior scientist and cultural advisor for The Nature Conservancy of Hawai'i, serving as cultural and spiritual advisor for the visit; Kristin Thomasgard, REPI Program director; and Dawn Chang, principal of Ku'iwalu Strategic Planning and Facilitation Firm, serving as forum facilitator. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Rare Plant Nursery
5 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Chris Wong, horticulture supervisor for Army Natural Resources Program, O'ahu checks on one of several thousand endangered native plant species grown within the ANRPO rare plant nurseries at Schofield Barracks. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Endangered Palm
6 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Ka'ala loulu (Pritchardia kaalae), an endangered palm endemic to the Wai'anae mountain range of O'ahu, is susceptible to coconut rhinoceros beetle damage. To help boost wild Ka'ala loulu populations, Army Natural Resources Program staff use mesh bags to collect fruit for propagation and reintroduction of this loulu back into the wild (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Hawaii is a tropical island paradise that attracts visitors from around the world to admire and enjoy the unique and beautiful natural environment.

Within this setting, the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program of U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii plays a vital mission in helping to preserve that environment while also working as a full partner with the surrounding community.

“The Hawaiian Islands are the most geographically isolated island chain on Earth which is a leading factor in the formation of a truly unique and extraordinary environment,” said Matthew Foster, Conservation Branch chief at U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii. “Hawaii is home to countless cultural and archaeological resources and to more than 500 species listed as federally threatened and endangered species.”

As part of its mission, the Army protects and conserves more than 120 threatened and endangered species across 22 military installations on Oahu and Hawaii Islands, including 106 endemic Hawaiian plants and 24 animal species, some with fewer than 50 individual species left in the world. The team also manages a one-of-a-kind leading seed laboratory, which stores and preserves more than 27 million seeds, including unique native species to Hawaii.

“The seed lab sources and stores millions of seeds that include 215 species, 72 of which are endangered,” said Kapua Kawelo, Natural Resources program manager.“ The Natural Resources team has helped save two species from extinction – the Haha plant and Hawaiian mint. Since 1988, we have produced more than 31,000 rare plants for reintroduction into natural habitats.”

The team intensely manages 39 rare plant species on and off Army lands and provides secondary management to more than 50 plant species identified in the installation’s Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan – a comprehensive and ambitious plan driving environmental management efforts.

“To date, we have attempted 254 reintroductions of 36 species and have made more than 16,000 observations of wild rare plants,” Kawelo said, adding that each year the team returns more than 2,000 plants back into the wild.

This comprehensive environmental and cultural preservation work represents a significant investment. Approximately $10 million is invested annually to mitigate potential military impacts to natural and cultural resources in Hawaii.

In addition, the team has led a Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program that has invested more than $27 million in land preservation efforts designed to both conserve habitat and provide a buffer between local communities and military training. REPI programs use a combination of Department of Defense, U.S. Army, and private and non-profit funding in establishing critical partnerships with community, federal, state and local partners.

In fiscal year 2023, the team worked with a variety of partners to identify an additional 3,800 acres for protection. These projects are designed to increase resilience of endangered wildlife and critical habitats, mitigate rare plant impacts, and detect and monitor the threat from invasive species.

“The privilege to live and work in Hawaii means recognizing that it is everyone’s kuleana – or responsibility – to care for the land. We have a shared kuleana to respect the relationship that Native Hawaiians have with the land and how these cultural practices must shape the foundation of natural resource conservation in Hawaii,” said Col. Stephen McGunegle, garrison commander. “Being part of an island community means understanding that while we may face different challenges than our neighbors, we all share a collective goal of caring for the ‘aina – or land.”