Protecting the rare and endangered

  • A wiliwili in bloom stands on the hillside near the entrance of Waikoloa Village, symbolizing the rare threatened trees that are protected by Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative. They will be celebrated at the 6th Annual Wiliwili Festival next Saturday at Waikoloa Stables. GEORGE FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY
    A wiliwili in bloom stands on the hillside near the entrance of Waikoloa Village, symbolizing the rare threatened trees that are protected by Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative. They will be celebrated at the 6th Annual Wiliwili Festival next Saturday at Waikoloa Stables. GEORGE FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY
  • Tours of the dry forest, workshops, lectures and booths comprise the free Wiliwili Festival that is open to the public. (COURTESY PHOTO/WDFI)
    Tours of the dry forest, workshops, lectures and booths comprise the free Wiliwili Festival that is open to the public. (COURTESY PHOTO/WDFI)

WAIKOLOA VILLAGE — Hawaiian Island residents and visitors will have an opportunity to learn more about the state’s revered wiliwili and uhiuhi trees next Saturday at the 6th Annual Wiliwili Festival.

The event is traditionally held in September to coincide with the spectacular flowering of the wiliwili trees. In 2016, however, the effects of a strong El Nino and an extremely dry winter, followed by more drought with a typical dry summer, caused the trees to flower early and sporadically. So festival organizers decided to hold the festival in January during the green winter season.

The event is held at Waikoloa Stables on Waikoloa Road, just mauka of the village. Beween 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. attendees can take guided tours of the dry forest, attend workshops and lectures and explore a variety of informational and food booths. The free event is sponsored by Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative (WDFI) and open to all ages.

WDFI manages the 275-acre Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve, protecting rare and endangered species such as wiliwili and uhiuhi trees. They also perform active forest restoration. The group has planted about 35 native dryland species which rely on conservation efforts for their survival.

Endemic to Hawaii, the enduring wiliwili trees are important in Hawaiian culture and history. With twisted gnarled limbs and colorful red and orange blossoms, the trees are majestic — especially when juxtaposed against the black lava where they often reside. Wiliwilis can live from 300-400 years.

Wood from the trees is soft and light and was used for making long surfboards, often for alii, as well as floats for fish nets and outrigger canoes. The uhiuhi, also celebrated and culturally important in Hawaii, is a hard, coarse grained black wood that was used by Hawaiians to make digging sticks, spears, daggers and fish lures.

Sadly, wiliwili are in short supply and uhiuhi are federally listed as endangered.

The trees are remnants of Hawaii’s historic tropical dryland forests which are now almost completely gone due largely to human activity and other factors including itinerant grazing, invasive species, increased erosion and wildfire, according to WDFI’s Executive Director Jen Lawson.

What is left is precious. Although fragmented and degraded, the areas of native forest that still persist are beautiful and inspiring.

“The Waikoloa wiliwili forest is one of those amazing places, worthy of preservation,” Lawson said.

Free guided tours of the preserve will be offered Saturday every hour, on the hour, between 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Those interested in the 8 and 9 a.m. time slots must sign up in advance. Sturdy shoes or hiking boots are suggested for the one-hour trip, where participants will see the community of native plants that comprise the dryland forest including the wiliwili, uhiuhi, ‘akia, ‘ilima and a’ali’i. They will also learn more about the natural history of the area and WDFI’s approach to forest restoration in a challenging landscape.

Workshops and lectures will begin with lei making at 10 a.m., updates on rapid ohia death at 11 a.m. and advanced lei making at noon. From 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Roen Hufford will be demonstrate making kapa. Live musical performances and 30 booths with presentations and food will be available throughout the day.

A silent auction and plant sale will support WDFI’s forest restoration and education programs that are free for students, teachers and families.

“The Wiliwili Festival is a fun and family-friendly event where people can learn more about the preserve and environmental, cultural and education efforts underway in the local community,” Lawson said. “We hope to reach a broad and hopefully new audience, as well as give back to the community that supports us.”

A degreed botanist, she has worked in rare plant conservation and natural resources management for the past 10 years, including five as WDFI’s executive director. During that time she has experienced some small victories and big losses.

“The first natural regeneration of uhiuhi and the first seeds picked from uhiuhi we planted were a high point and small signs that our efforts are working,” she said. “It was very inspiring considering the uhiuhi is endangered with only about 75 left in the wild.”

At the same time, some wiliwili trees were lost, including an extremely old and beloved tree named Maui that collapsed in 2014. Losing Maui was particularly difficult because the tree held so much sentimental value for so many.

“The loss of these trees was particularly emotional for our team but it also reminded us of the urgency and importance of our work,” Lawson said. “If we don’t keep protecting and planting these important trees we will lose them all and that is simply unacceptable.”

She continued, “When we lose a species or ecosystem, we are also at risk of losing the rich history and culture of the Hawaiian people which is so fundamentally linked to the environment. Protecting and restoring the remaining dry forest is essential to the survival of many uniquely Hawaii species, and also maintains and repairs many of the ecological services that the aina provides us.”

The Wiliwili Festival’s sponsors are the Kaulunani Urban and Community Forest Program, Hawaii Water Service Company, Hawaii Forest & Trail and the Hawaii Outdoor Guides. It is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service and Kaulunani Urban and Community Forestry Program of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forest and Wildlife.

Info or tour reservations: Call 494-2208 or email wdfi@waikoloadryforest.org

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