Hawai'i State News

$4.6M University of Hawai‘i project turns to non-invasive plants in fight against wildfires

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Clay Trauernicht holding seeds. Photo Courtesy: University of Hawai‘i

Hawaiʻi faces unique challenges in wildfire management, particularly due to the prevalence of more than 1 million acres of fire-prone non-native vegetation.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Extension Specialist Clay Trauernicht is looking to go to the root of the issue: Could restoring ecosystems with non-invasive and native plants alleviate some of the threat?

Trauernicht is leading the federally funded $4.6 million project through the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.


Increasing the availability of common “warrior” or “workhorse” plants through farm- or orchard-based production will relieve wild harvest pressure and provide the capacity to scale up risk reduction and restoration efforts.

“Whether we’re growing out plants for landscape scale restoration on fallow lands or directly re-seeding after fire, the vision is the ability to make it rain native seeds,” said Trauernicht.

The project will be divided into three stages: Wild collection, stock seed production and seed amplification. In the first three years, Trauernicht and his team will coordinate with local partners to build collections, targeting 1.5–2 million seeds across 5-8 species to ensure diversity and geographic representation.


The team will be working to store wild seed collections in each county for mitigation and post-fire restoration projects, develop seed sharing protocols and educational resources, and cultivate “stock seed” plots at CTAHR Agricultural Research Stations to provide seeds for farms and orchards.

“It’s going to be hard and super interesting work,” said Trauernicht. “UH extension staff will document and develop protocols for seed collections, data management, and the challenges and lessons that will emerge to inform pest management, irrigation needs and bulk harvesting/processing. These will be developed as educational resources to support current and future efforts in bulk seed production.”

Stock seed plots are intermediate scale plantings that maximize the diversity of traits and environmental tolerances across populations by allowing them to cross-pollinate. Stock seed is traceable back to wild founder populations, and as a starting point for future large-scale farms and orchards, the process ensures that farmed seed is only ever two generations away from wild plants.


An advisory group will also be formed to guide policy development for seed distribution and sale.

“My perspective is that, like land and water, we need to treat seeds and plant lineages as a public trust,” said Trauernicht. “So having UH be able to document seed sources, provide transparency on geographic representation, and ultimately ensure equitable access to quality plant materials is a major part of the project.”

This project was funded by the U.S. Forest Service Community Wildfire Defense Grant.

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