Restoration Ecology in Hawaii

Exclosures are Fun – Kuʻia Natural Area Reserve
by -- March 18th, 2013

We arrived at the CCC-constructed Kōkeʻe Lodge at Kōkeʻe State Park around nine in the morning, and met with Christopher Mottley, Kauaʻi Natural Area Reserves system specialist, plus his staff of four.  This small crew manages two reserves covering more than 5,000 acres of punishing and beautiful terrain containing 142 rare plants, 3 endangered forest birds, 3 endangered seabirds, and 3 federally listed picture-wing flies.

We descended into the Kuʻia Natural Area Reserve along the slick Nuʻalolo Trail.  We travelled slowly, and mostly upright, through koa-ʻohiʻa mixed montane mesic forest, a rare, high-elevation habitat type.  We reached a restoration area that included a small exclosure, a fence built to keep things out, not in, which protects about an acre of the mountainside from non-native ungulates like black-tailed deer and pigs.

A carpet of fallen koa (Acacia koa) leaves with the bottom of the exclosure fence and a flat of native species awaiting planting in the background.

Chris described the tension between the restoration work completed by the Department of Forestry and Wildlife with its management of ungulates as a resource for hunting.  (Black-tailed deer were actually imported to Kauaʻi from Oregon by the predecessor agency of the DOFAW in the 1960s, and the Kuʻia Natural Area Reserve is open to hunting.)

If you’ll permit me to grossly simplify the discussion:  to restorationists, the ungulates are a big part of the serious problems facing native species on Kauaʻi; to hunters, the fencing constructed for restoration shrinks hunting areas and habitat for the ungulates, which they view as a natural part of the environment, and a resource for their families and communities.  Like many agencies, the DOFAW has to find a balance somewhere in the middle because of its mandate to both responsively manage and protect native ecosystems, and provide recreational opportunities, including hunting.

The conflicting mandates within the Kuʻia Natural Area Reserve represented one of the many opportunities we had to appreciate the complexity of restoration challenges on Kauaʻi, and the outplanting we completed with the natural area reserve staff gave us another opportunity to reflect on just how difficult the work of restoration there is.






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