East Slope Watershed Protection
Planners, landowners, natural resource managers and community members are putting their heads together to protect one of Molokai’s most important resources — water. Many have noticed deterioration of native forests in recent years, especially on the east end, because of invasive species, and they say something needs to be done. Molokai’s rainforests are key watershed areas, or land that collects rain and acts as the island’s water source.
“The forest is [receding] because of its unkempt state,” said Opu`ulani Albino, a cultural representative of the Aha Kiole, a tradition, community-based resource management group on Molokai. “I’m grateful that someone has come forth with a plan… to preserve it.”
That draft management plan, called the East Slope Watershed Project, was presented to Mana`e residents last week. The planning process was initiated a couple of years ago, when Mana`e landowners began to talk about how to protect water resources, according to Stephanie Dunbar-Co, whose family has long-standing ties to the Kainalu area. She worked on writing the plan for about a year, completing a draft in February.
Hanohano Naehu, one of the Mana`e representatives to the Aha Kiole, said he and his family have been known as activists who say “no” to a lot of proposals on Molokai.
“We don’t stop everything, just bad ideas,” Naehu said Friday. “Tonight, I’m excited… there are a lot of facts why this is a good idea.”
Dunbar-Co said she remembers growing up and seeing forests filled with ohelo and ohia growth, which are no longer there.
“We are losing our rainforest,” she said. “We have water because we have rainforest… These are big issues and not our fault, but they are our problem to deal with.”
“There’s nobody in this room who doesn’t want to protect the watershed… it feeds everything, you can’t live without it,” said Walter Ritte, who does planning and consultation for the Aha Kiole. He said Friday’s meeting was just the beginning of the community input process and further meetings.
“The plan is not set in stone and that’s why we’re all here,” said Maile Naehu, one Mana`e’s moku representatives.
The East Slope Watershed Project involves a 14,000-acre area of east end forests that would become part of the East Molokai Watershed Partnership, which already manages more than 30,000 acres of land on the island. The goal is to protect intact, native forests to preserve key watershed areas that provide the majority of Molokai’s water.
The Partnership is a group of landowners, resource managers and agencies that work together to protect and preserve Molokai’s watersheds. Coordinated by The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Molokai program and with funding help from partner agencies, applied management strategies include invasive animal and weed control, fencing to protect upper forests, monitoring and community outreach.
“The Partnership is about landowners who want to protect the water resources… and agencies are saying ‘we want to help you,’” said Ed Misaki, director of TNC Molokai, of the partnership that was formed in 1999.
Similar management practices would take place on the East Slope area, with a four-fold program that includes animal control, weed control, forest monitoring and native species restoration, according to Dunbar-Co. The plan divides the East Slope into four proposed units that were chosen because they represent watershed areas with the most intact native forest. Those areas would be fenced to keep out animals that cause damage to the forest, like deer, goats and pigs. Management of the units would be tackled one at a time.
Popular hunting grounds such as Pakaikai, Honouliwai and most of Haka`ano would be excluded from fencing. Dunbar-Co said because Pakaikai is one of the most important Mana`e hunting areas and its animal populations have already decimated most of the vegetation there, no animal or weed control will take place in that area. It could also act as a corridor for animals to move between the north and south shores of the island.
“The goal is to do this without any one of us having to give up too much,” said Dunbar-Co.
She said since the draft was completed in February, she has presented it to the Aha Kiole, started the Mana`e Mauka Working Group which has met twice to discuss it, and held one-on-one conversations with Mana`e residents.
Dunbar-Co said she’s been encouraged by the amount of landowner support the project has received. While tensions occasionally rose over concerns expressed at the meeting, moderator Hanohano Naehu encouraged healthy debate in the spirit of cooperation and love for each other and the aina.
“This is the best plan I’ve heard in a long time,” said Albino.
Addressing Common Concerns
Dunbar-Co said the plan is not about limiting access, bringing in outside resources to do the work, or about erecting a fence.
“It’s about what the fence protects,” she said.
Fences would be built to exclude invasive animals that eat and uproot native growth. The fences’ purpose is to protect the forest inside, not to keep people out, according to an information sheet handed out by organizers. Step-overs and gates would be installed at strategic points along the fence to ease access into the forest, the sheet states.
East end resident Ruth Manu said after she learned it’s not to exclude resident access, she began to see the fence differently.
“If it’s working on other islands, why not use it here?” she asked, offering support for the plan.
Molokai resident Wailana Moses, who also works alongside TNC, said she has flown the existing fence line and confirmed it is high above most hunting areas, allowing residents to continue subsistence practices in their usual grounds.
“We’ve been monitoring the east side since 2003 and [the forest] is deteriorating,” she said.
Management practices would also be carried out primarily by local staff.
“This project, as much as possible, will be in-house,” said Hanohano Naehu. “It has to be. That’s been a major concern and one of our highest priorities.”
Another concern raised Friday night was by an east end resident who said she’s noticed an influx of deer eating her garden since the Kamalo area was fenced.
“What happens to all those animals that get fenced out?” she wondered.
Molokai-born Justin Luafalemana, who now works as a fence worker on Oahu, said fencing will does affect animals’ travel and behavior.
“Any time you build a fence, it changes the movement of animals and they have to find different sources for food, water and shelter,” he said. “We’d have to work with people [who might experience the effects] to find a solution.”
Ritte asked attendees to write down their questions and concerns, which would be answered and discussed at future community meetings.
“This forest is [currently] not being managed or protected,” said Dunbar-Co. “We can come together and protect it for future generations so they can have a glass of water to drink.”
For more information about the draft plan, contact Misaki by emailing email@example.com.