East Hawaii News

Pālamanui Forest Preserve Will Be a ‘Living Laboratory’

November 30, 2021, 2:30 PM HST
* Updated November 30, 1:44 PM
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Thanks to an agreement between the University of Hawai‘i and the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Hawai‘i Community College students will be able to learn “indigenous wisdom” firsthand via the management of a lowland dry forest.

Hawai‘i Community College–Pālamanui in Kailua-Kona is gaining a neighboring 706-acre forest preserve that will be an important outdoor learning area for the community.

The Pālamanui Campus Preserve project received the green light from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, which authorized the agreement for UH and DOFAW to collaboratively manage the lowland dry forest area next to the campus. The parties are in the process of completing a memorandum of understanding.

A wiliwili seed that will be used for propagation.

“The most endangered ecosystem in Hawai‘i is the lowland dry forest, and in fact the lowland tropical dry forest is the most endangered ecosystem worldwide,” said Richard Stevens, a history lecturer at the Pālamanui campus who has helped lead the project. “In other words, this type of forest all over the world has almost completely disappeared, so this is hugely important ecologically to preserve what remains and restore what is gone.”

Stevens has taken students and community members into the forest for years to help clear trails, gather seeds to propagate native plants and connect students’ study of history to a real place. He said the Pālamanui Campus Preserve features ancient Hawaiian trails, archaeological sites and beautiful wiliwili trees, lama trees and other species that make it a place rich with opportunity for education and inspiration.

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“This is the practice of indigenous wisdom, to restore and protect and assist the ‘āina, to help it recover,” Stevens said.

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Pālamanui liberal arts student Hiwa Campbell said time she’s spent in the forest preserve supports her academics, but also reminds her of values, such as patience, that carry over into the rest of her student life.

“The forest preserve would be a huge resource for agriculture, forestry, possibly botany,” Campbell said. “But also, in the action of restoring and perpetuating something, it gives students a sense of place and belonging and teaches values that sometimes academics doesn’t teach us.”

HCC has programs in natural science and tropical forest ecosystem and agroforestry management that could potentially use the preserve as a learning resource.

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“These two academic programs align perfectly with this unique outdoor laboratory, which creates potential opportunities for them to expand and grow in West Hawai’i,” said HCC–Palamanui interim director Raynette “Kalei” Haleamau-Kam.

Elliott Parsons, a natural area reserves specialist with the DOFAW, said the collaboration with HCC–Pālamanui is a natural fit.

“Having a 706-acre dry forest preserve as a living laboratory for students is the perfect place to engage student curiosity, allow students to gain practical skills in conservation and resource management and teach students about the incredible endemic biodiversity of the Hawaiian Islands and how to protect it,” Parsons said. “UH is playing a vital role in training the next generation of conservation leaders, and there is therefore great overlap in the educational and resource protection missions of both UH and DOFAW.”

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