By the 1830s, forested lands in the Islands were in decline. The sandalwood trade had reduced sandalwood populations to such an extent that in 1839, Hawaii’s first forestry law restricted the harvest of sandalwood.
Cattle (which had been introduced in the late-1700s) continued to cause widespread destruction of native forests. (Idol) For many years, cattle were allowed an unrestricted range in the forests so that in many sections the forest is either dead or dying. (Griffith)
The almost total destruction of the undergrowth has allowed the soil to bake and harden thus causing the rainfall to run off rapidly with the resultant effect of very low water during the dry season. (Griffith)
It reached a maximum by the late 1800s/early-twentieth century owing to burning of the forests to locate the fragrant sandalwood trees, demand for firewood, commercial logging operations, conversion to agricultural and pastureland, the effects of grazing and browsing ungulates (including cattle, goats, and pigs) and increased fire frequency. (Woodcock)
The sugar industry, still concerned about water shortages due to forest decline, sought and succeeded in establishing the forest reserve system, which instituted partnerships between public and private landowners to protect forests.
On March 5, 1902 US Forester EM Griffith presented a report “General Description of the Hawaiian Forests;” it documented 3 key issues …
1) the most important ecosystem service of Hawaiian forests is water, 2) destruction of Hawaiian forests by feral ungulates and 3) wildfire, previously unknown in forested ecosystems, rapidly converting forested ecosystems to fire-dominated ecosystems. (DLNR)
Due to the cooperation between public and private landowners, and another tax break for conservation of forests on private land in 1909, large scale reforestation, fencing and feral ungulate eradication efforts occurred across the islands.
The forests were transformed during this time, as millions of fast-growing nonnative trees were planted throughout the islands to quickly re-establish watersheds denuded by logging and ungulates.
They planted 130,000-redwood trees from 1927 to 1959 in many Forest Reserves on Kauai, Maui, Lanaʻi, Molokai, O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island.
The tree may be seen at Kokeʻe State Park on Kauai, Waihou Spring Forest Reserve on Maui, and near Volcano Village on Hawaii, as well as Hilo and Honaunau. Maui has more than 280-acres with about 7-million board feet in the Kula Forest Reserve at 5,500-feet.
In order to save the little remaining forest in Kula, “the cattle must be absolutely excluded. It is far easier and a much better policy to save the existing forests than to certainly destroy them by grazing and attempt to realize by planting a forest in some other locality.”
“Planting is extremely expensive, especially if the trees are set out very close together as must be done if a dense forest is to be secured which will act as a sponge and hold the water supply. Then too, a small amount of planting here and there does very little good and such expensive work will seldom be necessary in the islands if a common sense forest policy is pursued.” (Griffith)
The ‘Redwood Trail” at Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area takes you to and through some of the remnants of the tree planting of almost 100-years ago.
Trail starts at at 6,200-foot elevation, winds through stands of redwood and other conifers, past Tie Trail junction and down to the old ranger’s cabin at 5,300-feet.
At the trail’s end is the old Civilian Conservation Corps camp and a three-way junction, the beginning point for both the Plum Trail and the Boundary Trail. Several plum and other fruit trees can be found in this old camp area.
To get there, take Highway 37 past Pukalani to the second junction of Highway 377. Turn left on 377 for about 0.3 mile, then right on Waipoli Road.
This becomes Polipoli Access Road at the first cattle guard and climbs up the mountain through a long series of switchbacks until it enters the forest at 6,400′ elevation, where the pavement ends.