East Hawaii News

Nature Conservancy Acquires Conservation Easement

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The Nature Conservancy has acquired a 922-acre conservation easement along Saddle Road. The site includes a 200-acre kipuka with a disappearing stream and a diverse ancient forest.

In partnership with the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, Hawai’i Island watershed partnerships, and the parcel’s landowner, The Hawai’i Conference Foundation; the Conservancy will conserve, manage and interpret the site. Additionally, the site will continue to serve as an outdoor ecology laboratory for students at UH-Hilo.

Titus Coan acquired the kipuka through the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions during The Great Mahele in 1849. His widow granted the title to the Hawaiian Evangelical Association 50 years later, which is now the Hawai’i Conference UCC and Hawai’i Conference Foundation.

“It is an awesome piece of property, and we did what was necessary to make this possible because it is our church’s kuleana,” said Sherman S. Hee, executive director of the foundation.

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A diverse amount of native plants, birds and insects populate the property. A stream that pops up from underground, runs through the kipuka, and then disappears into the ground again is also found on the property. Although beautiful and serene, the property is close to the road, which means there are some weeds, feral pigs, and illegal dumping of items like tires and trash.

“It is in good enough shape that we can remove the invasives and make a quick, significant difference,” said Jody Kaulukukui, The Nature Conservancy’s director of land protection.“It is low, rugged and mossy. It has a majestic stand of native loulu palms and other ancient forest trees. Our hope is that it will serve as one of the few easily accessible sites where school and community groups can reconnect with a Hawaiian forest.”

As part of Hilo’s watershed, the site will continue to serve UH-Hilo as an educational platform in conservation.

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“This area is a great example of lowland wet forest. For many years, we have taken ecology and avian biology classes there to study the birds and native insect communities,” said Patrick Hart, UH-Hilo associate professor of Biology.

The forested part of the parcel is referred to as a kipuka in reference to the 400 to 700-year-old forest that was bypassed and left standing by the 1855 Mauna Loa lava flow.

“What’s special about this parcel is that it’s such beautiful forest, so full of native species, and so accessible. We’re viewing this as a real opportunity to protect native forest in partnership with the landowner, the University, the watershed partnerships and the people of East Hawai’I,” said Suzanne Case, the Conservancy’s Hawai’i executive director. “It is a partnership that will leave a legacy for future generations.”

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