Envision a child helping to plant a seedling; then, while standing before a 100-year old tree, asking him about what he thought life was like in the islands when that tree was once a seedling.
More importantly, imagine him wonder what life will be like in the islands when his planted seedling turned 100-years old.
This was part of the vision for a forest management plan; let’s look back …
Native koa ecosystems serve as watershed recharge areas while providing recreational opportunities and important wildlife habitat. Koa is considered a vital species for healthy populations of endemic birds and insects. The tree itself has myriad uses in Hawaiian culture and traditions.
In making Hokuleʻa, the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) wanted to use traditional materials (koa wood hulls, lauhala sails, sennit lashing) and traditional tools (adzes, bone gouges, coral files and sharkskin for sanding) in building the canoe.
Instead, the hulls were constructed out of plywood, fiberglass, and resin, and the sails were made from canvas; the lashings were done with synthetic cordage. (PVS)
It takes 125 years or more to grow a koa log large enough for a canoe, which generally needs to be 35 to 45 feet long with a diameter of 48 inches or more (voyaging canoes require larger logs.)
That period may be shortened if specific koa logs are identified for canoes now, and forestry prescriptions (e.g. thinning, pruning) are applied to favor the growth of those trees for canoe logs. (DLNR)
Unless committed efforts were made to grow koa for canoe logs on a sustainable basis now, no Hawaiian voyaging canoes would be built in the future using traditional methods (i.e. from a single large log.)
Likewise, racing and smaller style canoes will need to be fabricated from smaller koa logs joined or spliced together.
While I was Chair at DLNR, I remembered how folks could not find appropriately sized/shaped native trees in Hawai‘i to build the Hokule‘a and subsequent voyaging canoes.
Likewise, I knew of the interest canoe clubs and others had for koa racing canoes. Without protection of our koa forests, we may never have the trees for future canoes.
In 2004, we then initiated the formal designation of the Kapapala Koa Canoe Forest Management Area on land set-aside in 1989, near the Volcano National Park, in Kaʻu, on the Big Island. The designated area consists of approximately 1,200-acres of mature koa-ʻohiʻa forest.
The 1,257-acre property extends from the 3,640-foot elevation of Mauna Loa to 5,100 feet. It is next to the state-managed Kapapala and Ka’u Forest Reserves, and is covered with young and old koa trees, although the trees aren’t yet suitable for canoe building.
Here, koa trees grow tall and straight – necessary traits for core material in canoe shaping. It was the first Forest Management Area specifically designated for nurturing and harvesting koa canoe logs.
A broad, multi-faceted focus was envisioned, dealing with cultural & historical, technical forestry (planning, measurements, theory,) applied forestry (plant, weed, thin, prune, harvest) and wood working (canoe building, as well as crafting of excess/scrap material.)
Seven major goals of the project included:
- Preserve Hawaiʻi’s unique natural and cultural inheritance for future generations, by fostering knowledge and respect for Hawaii’s native forests, in a way that inspires better care of its natural environment.
- Protect threatened tropical forest habitat and promote environmental policies and practices, that address biological sustainability and human well-being, by identifying and integrating relevant traditional Hawaiian natural resource stewardship models with current Western management strategies.
- Develop natural resource stewardship models that involve a wide range of constituent groups.
- Involve youth through cooperative programs with the Department of Education, University of Hawaiʻi, and other school and education institutions.
- Provide wood workers with portions of harvested trees that are not processed as canoe logs.
- Involve other constituency groups (i.e. canoe clubs, forest management entities and cultural organizations).
- Provide compatible opportunities for public uses such as hunting and recreation.
Protecting trees for canoes is great; but, for me, the plan was not just about trees – we envisioned greater benefit by getting school children into the forests to help with the management and monitoring of its progress – and help them wonder.
At the outset, we envisioned that trees in the forest would be ‘designated’ to schools and canoe clubs across the state, with students and paddlers from each school/club periodically visiting and nurturing their respective tree. Ultimately, the school/club would get a log for a school/club koa canoe.
Likewise, the intent was to make the excess wood available to wood workers, so nothing would be wasted and crafters would have material to work with.
As part of the project implementation, Hawaiʻi Forest Institute worked with the Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association (HFIA,) DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW,) Imi Pono and the Three Mountain Alliance to develop a plan for bringing youth to the Kapapala Canoe Forest for cultural and environmental education. (I am proud to now serve as an HFI Board member)
The dream of assuring future koa logs for canoes is apparently working toward reality through partnerships with DLNR and others. I am hopeful the needs for future koa canoe logs will be filled, DOE and children across the state can also participate in these activities, and a healthy forest will be protected.