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Name of Project: Waihou Forest Restoration Project at Pu’u Wa’awa’a

Location: Maui, Hawaii

Number of Trees Planted: 6,000

The native flora of the Hawaiian Islands consists of approximately 956 flowering plant species and 198 species of fern, the vast majority of which are endemic to Hawaii, meaning they grow nowhere else on Earth. This level of endemism is the highest in the world, surpassing even that of the renowned Galapagos Islands. Of Hawaii’s plant species, however, 273 are threatened or endangered — more than in any other state.

In 1909, during his extensive survey of the region’s vegetation, Hawaiian botanist Joseph Rock proclaimed Pu‘u Wa‘awa‘a “the richest floral section of any in the whole Territory.” Indeed, several of the area’s species occur nowhere else in the Hawaiian Islands. Decades of land abuse, however, have led to a dramatic shift in the vegetation composition of Hawaii’s Waihou Forest, in which non-native and invasive plant species now thrive.

A staggering 51-75 percent of forest cover was lost between 1954 and 1994 — a time during which domestic and feral livestock grazed the land, trees were cleared for pasture improvement and koa and other valuable trees were illegally harvested. Frequent droughts and a susceptibility to wildfires have further degraded the forest, and a thick mat of non-native grasses impedes native plant recruitment. Hawaii’s Waihou Forest, however, has great potential for recovery.

American Forests is partnering with the Hawaiian Silversword Foundation, the state government and other partners to plant 6,000 trees in the Pu‘u Wa‘awa‘a area of Waihou Forest by December 2013. The three tree types to be planted are koa, mmane and a’ali’i — all of which are native species. By helping to restore the forest’s original vegetation, this project will aid in the recovery of threatened and endangered plants, restore the habitats of native wildlife species and serve as a demonstration project for education and community groups.

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