HONOLULU – New protections for watershed forests in West Maui should result in healthier forests and cleaner, more abundant water downstream.
New fencing to keep invasive animals and ungulates out of the watershed’s primary forests was installed by the Mauna Kahālāwai Watershed Partnership in collaboration with the DLNR Division of Forests and Wildlife (DOFAW), the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the privately owned Puʻu Kukui Watershed . Save. Funding for the project included more than $700,000 to DLNR from the Hawaiʻi Health Contaminated Runoff Control Program, which is supported by Section 319 of the federal Clean Water Act, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. The project emphasizes the mutually beneficial goal of improving human health and the environment through watershed protection.
Installation of new fences, as well as upgrades to older fences, took place within TNC’s Puʻu Kukui Watershed Reservoir and Kapunakea Preserve, including the Honokōwai, Kahana, Honokahua and Honolua watersheds. Fencing to prevent invasive ungulates is the first step in protecting the watershed’s priority forests, which are Hawai’i’s only source of fresh water. This protection allows native plants, including rare species, to thrive, increases water recharge, and reduces erosion and potential health risks for downstream users. Water traveling through this area eventually flows into a priority management area to protect Hawaii’s coral reefs, which can be overwhelmed by large amounts of sediment in runoff.
The Puʻu Kukui Watershed Preserve, located on the west side of Mauna Kahālāwai, is one of the largest privately owned nature preserves in Hawai’i. The preserve is one of the most pristine and untouched habitats in Hawai’i, and one of the wettest spots on earth, averaging about 400 inches of rain per year. The area is managed cooperatively by reservoir staff, landowner Maui Land & Pineapple Co., and DLNR, with support from TNC and the Living Pono Project. Although previous projects have addressed the Kahana and Honolua watersheds, the new work within this project now provides a continuous fence line, resulting in greater protection of water resources.
Kapunakea Preserve, located in the Honokōwai watershed, is managed by DLNR and TNC and is home to 11 different natural communities and 24 rare and endangered species. Project funds were used to support fencing and management activities aimed at protecting biodiversity, cultural resources and water resources.
“Building these long-needed fence sections helped us to harden and renew the protection we can offer our barge.” said Chris Brosius, program manager for the Mauna Kahālāwai Watershed Partnership. “I am very grateful to the Department of Health, our partners and especially our staff for their hard work on this project. These were some of the most difficult sections to get around on the mountain and required advanced building and rappelling skills, and a ton of gravel. It has been years in the making and we are thrilled to have completed the project.”
This project also helps advance the West Maui Ridge to Reef (R2R) Initiative, a holistic approach across multiple organizations to protect coral reefs on West Maui. Keeping the upper watershed clear of invasive deer, hogs, and other ungulates is critical to maintaining vegetative cover and reducing erosion and sedimentation that can affect nearshore reefs. Healthier forests in the area can also help produce more fresh water and reduce future drought symptoms.