Forest Service to Study Clear-Cut Puna Forest
by Dave Smith
A remote section of Puna forest that was cut down nearly three decades ago will become a laboratory for the study of “cataclysmic” man-made deforestation.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources last week gave the US Forest Service permission to study the area located adjacent to the Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve.
The area of about 900 acres is part of a 2,526-acre parcel located southeast of Pahoa. It is now owned by the state but in 1984 was the property of the private Campbell Estate.
At the time, the estate, which was dissolved in 2007, logged the ohia forest, ostensibly to convert it to pasture and to open up the area for potential geothermal development.
Many of the trees were turned into wood chips for sale to Hawaii Electric Light Co. to be burned to generate electricity for the Big Island grid.
The action resulted in public protests as well as acts of vandalism targeting the logging equipment being used.
Much of the southern part of the larger parcel was covered by lava from 1986 to 1990 when Kupaianaha was the active vent of Kilauea volcano.
In 1986, the state and Campbell Estate did a land swap, with the estate receiving what is now the Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve, where it made several unsuccessful attempts to tap geothermal energy.
In 2006, Wao Kele O Puna was purchased by the Trust for Public Land and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and turned over to the control of OHA.
For its role in the exchange the state received the parcel which will be the focus of the reforestation study along with three others. Those included Kahaualea located further south, where Campbell had originally planned to drill geothermal wells.
However, that area became covered by lava from the Pu`u `O`o vent in the early- to mid-1980s.
Kahaualea is also the area where lava flows are currently active.
Now the Forest Service wants to document the recovery of the former forest land. Its two-year study will include analysis of the types and amounts of plants recolonizing the area.
According to a report from the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the study is designed to “produce a better understanding of natural native forest recovery and succession.”
Some of the new trees are albizia, a fast-growing non-native species invading much of Puna.
The plan calls for the Forest Service personnel to “exterminate” the albizia trees using herbicide placed into cuts around the base of the trees.
The study will include the effects of removing the albizia on the regrowth of the forest.