The Greening of Wahiawā: UH Professor Turns Environmentally-Friendly Dream Into Reality

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A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa professor and several others recently lent a hand to a civic club on O’ahu in an effort to reforest the area surrounding a sacred monument.

During the 2021 holiday break, Camilo Mora, a UH-Mānoa geography professor and principal investigator of the Carbon Neutrality Challenge, and his family; Tom Lenchanko, guardian of the Kūkaniloko Birthstones State Monument in Central O’ahu and member of the Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā; and fellow civic club volunteers spent several Saturdays digging holes and planting seeds and saplings that will grow into sturdy koa, lonomea, wiliwili and manele trees.

Tom Lenchanko, member of the Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā. Photos courtesy of UH-Mānoa.

Funding assistance came from Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and private supporters.

According to a UH press release, Lenchanko seriously embraces his role as guardian of the Kūkaniloko Birthstones State Monument. He and other members of civic club take meticulous care of the 10 acres of undeveloped land brimming with historical and cultural significance. Dating back to 760 AD, it was the birthplace of royal children during the monarchy.


The lightbulb moment for Lenchanko came in 2019, while attending a tree-planting event on Oʻahu. He became excited by an idea: Why not plant thousands of native Hawaiian trees at Kūkaniloko to reforest the area while also improving watershed management? That’s when he approached Mora.

“When I was contacted by Uncle Tom to help, I could not resist,” said Mora. “He is one of those rare people who are truly connected with the land and the communities surrounding it. I really appreciate all the hard work that he puts into maintaining that site and, given its historical significance, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of his effort to reforest Kūkaniloko.”

Survival of the seeds and young trees at Kūkaniloko is projected to be about 90%, since there is continuing maintenance of the plantings by Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā members.


“Our goal is to reforest the land with 200,000 native Hawaiian hardwoods,” said Lenchanko.

Kūkaniloko is also one of the sites supported by Mora’s Carbon Neutrality Challenge, a joint project by UH-Mānoa and numerous organizations that aims to restore local ecosystems by offsetting carbon emissions with tree-plantings. The challenge has already reached important milestones, such as in December 2020, when 2,000 volunteers planted 10,000 native Hawaiian trees on Gunstock Ranch in Kahuku, O’ahu.

“Our ultimate goal is to plant 1 million trees a day in Hawaiʻi,” Mora said. “We have already perfected the planting process so that any average person can plant about 20 trees in an hour. Following that math, if we manage to get only 10% of the population to participate — that would be 100,000 people — it is a path to plant 1 million trees a day.”


To contact Mora, email him at [email protected]. For more information about the Carbon Neutrality Challenge, click here.

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