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$1.8M for Molokai Conservation Efforts

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Molokai is anticipated to have clearer oceans and reefs, less erosion and flooding, and protection from wildfires thanks to $1.8 million in federal funds that were just awarded to the Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

The funding, through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), will pay for measures to protect Molokai’s forest ecosystems, like fencing for protection from hooved animals and creating firebreaks. The State of Hawaii is also matching the funds as part of a larger Watershed Initiative, directing an additional $2 million of state Capital Improvement Project (CIP) and operating funds to protect Molokai’s forests and provide jobs for Molokai residents, according to the DLNR.

Stacy Crivello, Molokai community liaison for Mayor Michael Victorino, said the project will support Molokai’s subsistence lifestyle.

“Molokai depends on our natural resources to sustain our lifestyle,” she said. “Protecting our watershed and restoring our forests protect our reefs. Taking care of mauka takes care of makai.”

Erosion along Molokai’s south shore, starting with damage and devegetation of the forest areas from overgrazing of deer and goats, are widely recognized by scientists and residents alike. Dirt washes down to the ocean, clogging fishponds, smothering coral and feeding invasive algae. Molokai’s native forests need to be protected to absorb rainwater and retain soil. Forests and south slope areas are also at risk from wildfire, which leaves bare dirt and further puts the ecosystem in peril.

The project states that “protecting what is left of the island’s intact native forests, in addition to restoring degraded areas across this landscape, is critical in building and maintaining island-wide resilience.”

To this end, work will focus on four specific components to Molokai’s long-term planning efforts, according to Sen. Mazie Hirono’s office, which helped secure the funding. Construction of ungulate-proof fencing along Kawela Gulch will help restore 1,320 acres of native vegetation within a degraded drainage basin known to be the largest transporter of sediment onto Molokai’s south shore assets. Ungulates and invasive plant species will be removed within two, soon-to-be completed fenced areas of Lower Kamakou and Pakui management units, which include 3,340 acres of at-risk native forest at the headwaters of drainages feeding into cultural fishponds and the south shore fringing reef, as well as the only highway on island. Firebreaks will also be constructed in strategic locations along the south shore, mitigating potential impacts to community assets including residences, roads, fishponds and the fringing reef.

“Island communities in Hawaii and the Pacific region continue to experience more frequent and extreme weather events due to climate change,” Sen. Hirono said. “Investments in natural infrastructure are critical in helping to mitigate adverse impacts from climate change. This funding will contribute to increased resiliency across the islands by helping communities protect our eroding shorelines, conserve our coastal and marine ecosystems, mitigate wildfires, and preserve our biodiversity.”

The East Molokai Watershed Partnership, led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), involves DLNR and other agencies, landowners and community organizations working to develop a landscape-level management plan to address these problems, according to the DLNR.

“Each budget session our Maui County Council allocates significantly to forest watershed protection efforts countywide, and being from Molokai, where subsistence is our way of life, funding resource management is highly prioritized,” said Council Vice Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez.

Along with erosion mitigation, preserving Molokai’s valuable water sources is a project priority.

“The ʻolelo no‘eau (Hawaiian proverb) ‘Ina e lepo ke kumu wai, e ho‘ea ana ka lepo ikai’ means ‘If the source of the water is dirty, muddy water will travel to the sea,’” said Ulalia Woodside, Director of The Nature Conservancy, Hawaii chapter. “By restoring forests, we counter that possibility and provide jobs that allow the people of Molokai to give back to the nature that sustains them.”

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