Family Foundation Bolsters Forest Restoration

December 30, 2019, 12:02 PM HST (Updated December 30, 2019, 12:02 PM)
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Dr. Robbins (far right) and Mrs. Robbins. PC: The Nature Conservancy

A Hawai‘i Island family foundation has raised almost $500,000 over the last 15 years, which has been used for the protection of 12,000 acres of native forest on Mauna Loa slopes.

The Max and Yetta Karasik Family Foundation’s 2019 gift of $45,000 is supporting dramatic and ongoing recovery of The Nature Conservancy’s Kona Hema and Kaʻū preserves, which provide fresh water for people and vital habitat for native forest birds and other native species, a TNC press release said.

“We are grateful to the Karasik Family Foundation for investing in Hawaiʻi Island’s future by understanding the importance of healthy native forests,” said Nature Conservancy of Hawaiʻi Executive Director Ulalia Woodside. “Their 2019 donation marks 15 years of giving, totaling nearly $500,000, to improve the forests of south Kona and Kaʻū.”

In 2019, the Conservancy’s 8,240-acre Kona Hema Preserve celebrated its 20th anniversary. Purchased in three parcels between 1999 to 2003, the preserve has been transformed from former pastureland to a thriving native forest, the release said.

TNC has erected 25 miles of exterior and interior fences, removed all feral animals, cleared 620 acres of invasive weeds, restored 350 acres of pastureland to koa forest and planted 5,700 native fruit trees and shrubs.

Native forest, Kona Hema Preserve, Big Island. PC: The Nature Conservancy

“When we began acquiring Kona Hema, the native forest was inundated with feral animals and heavily impacted by a century of logging and ranching,” said Woodside. “Today, thanks to the Karasik Family Foundation and other supporters, our conservation efforts have resulted in a dramatic forest recovery.”

Among the many positive changes is an upsurge in water recharge. Kona Hema is now contributing 14.5 million gallons of water a day to local aquifers, and scientists say that with continued investment the recharge will only increase. In addition, the ‘ōma‘o, a native thrush, recently established a small population in the preserve after having not been seen in south Kona for 40 years.

The 3,500-acre Kaʻū Preserve was established in 2002 after the Conservancy purchased former C. Brewer lands bordering the State’s Kaʻū Forest Reserve. Its wet koa-ʻōhiʻa forest shelters 153 plant species unique to Hawaiʻi and, in the absence of feral hoofed animals, one of the island’s richest assemblages of endangered forest birds.

“We’re proud to help The Nature Conservancy do what it does best for the future of our island — use science to inform its decisions, adapt to changing circumstances and work with partners to expand their impact,” said Dr. Richard Robbins from the Karasik Family Foundation. “To witness the revitalization of these lands is very rewarding.”

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