Friends of Hakalau Forest
National Wildlife Refuge
Summer 2019 Newsletter
Presidents' Perch Summer 2019

J.B. Friday
President, Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
In This Issue



Research in the Refuge

T-Shirt Contest

Spaces Available at  Upcoming Events on the Refuge
Back in the 1970's, when I started becoming aware of such things, environmentalism was pretty doom and gloom. Everything was going to a bad place in a handbasket. (Does anyone else recall reading The Limits to Growth?) But the environmental movement figured out that despair isn't a good motivator and that people respond better to hopeful messages.

In this newsletter, the longest and most informative we've ever published, board member Pat Hart recalls measuring 7,000 (!) trees during his graduate research and calculating that the 'ōhi'a trees on the Refuge are among the oldest hardwoods in the northern hemisphere. Moreover, he figured out that although he frequently saw fallen old 'ōhi'a, younger ones were taking their place as fast as they aged. Earlier this year we published an article on how modern technologies hold the promise of eliminating mosquitoes (look for the new "a'ole mosquitoes" bumper stickers around town). The tried-and-true techniques of fencing areas and planting trees and the new bio-tech methods are both helping to keep Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge the one place where the Hawaiian forest bird populations are stable. Read the newsletter for news, science, and service opportunities on the Refuge. Don't forget to join the Friends if you're not yet a member!

Manager's Report

Tom Cady
Big Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex Project Leader

Aloha Friends of Hakalau Refuge.

Our summer season is off and running with considerable focus on our out planting efforts. We’ve had a steady stream of volunteer visits and many thousands of plants of various species put out onto the refuge. Thank you and please keep it coming!

A number of things are in the process of change at the refuge. We are having numerous internal and external discussions and attempting a little ‘trial and error’ to make improvements to our operations by next year. Here is a laundry list of things happening at the refuge. As always, please feel free to reach out to any of our staff for more information about any of these items.
Refuge Staffing

      Bruce Dempsey joined our staff, as our new maintenance mechanic this March. Bruce has a tremendous (and much needed) skillset that he brings to the refuge, and he is already making big improvements to our refuge infrastructure. See Bruce’s bio for more information about him and his career.

       Leland Jardine and David (Mackey) Bishop have been offered and they accepted permanent pest control worker positions in late May. The refuge was successful in retaining these two seasoned refuge veterans by converting their term positions into these now permanent positions. Unfortunately, the refuge was not successful in recruiting an individual into our pest control leader position, and we will have to re-advertise the position in the future.

       Please be sure to say ‘hello’ and congratulate these folks for joining our Hakalau team
Land Acquisitions
 The final third of a three part acquisition at the Kona Unit was successfully completed in December effectively tripling that unit’s size to approximately 15,000 acres (addition of 10,000 acres to the 5,000 acquired in 1997). Routine access to this new parcel is still being sorted out, but the hard part is now complete. Many thanks to current and former USFWS employees and the McCandless family for making this happen.
Out Planting and Forest Restoration Program
        Staff have been working with Baron to moderate his workload a bit and to provide him an opportunity to switch his schedule in the future so he can assume a more ‘regular’ lifestyle. As part of that desired outcome, we are scaling back on our plant production just a bit by consolidating our plants entirely to the greenhouse facilities, with the exception of grow-out o’hia that will eventually reside on the east side of the old greenhouse. We’ve already made some big steps in this direction by dismantling most of the shade tables that were located next to the greenhouses and donating the useable materials to the Hilo Community College.

·         Some recent USGS research is providing us with some very interesting information that suggests we may be fighting a serious uphill battle against the grass on the refuge, in particular, and slowing our efforts towards reestablishing a more diverse forest in the long run. In a general sense, these results are suggesting that we really need to turn our efforts towards reducing the grass load and increasing o’hia production to move more towards our endpoint of having a diverse and robust native forest on the former Hakalau ranchlands.

·         The refuge received funding from the regional office this year to enlist the services of EcoAdapt, an environmental consulting firm, to assist with the development of a forest restoration and climate adaptation plan that will synthesize considerable information and opinion about our restoration program and how forecasted climate change may affect these efforts. This effort is already underway and will work towards completion by next summer. 
Biology Program

·         Annual forest bird surveys were completed at both Refuge units in late March. With good weather and a large group of volunteers and colleagues from other agencies helping out we were able to complete the surveys in 2 days at each unit. This year was unusual at the Hakalau Forest Unit in that the ohia bloom was very low, which may be reflected in the bird abundance estimates once the data are analyzed. At the Kona Forest Unit, bloom was good and Apapane numbers were very high as usual. It appears we may have some of the highest densities of Apapane on the Island at the KFU.

·         The nene breeding season has come to an end. Most of the birds have left the refuge for the summer. They will return in the fall. This was a very successful year, with 46 goslings making it to fledging. 

·         The refuge is currently starting a planning process that will detail the types of surveys and projects the refuge’s biological program will conduct in the future. This Inventory and Monitoring Plan (I&M Plan for short) will provide interested parties with a view of what our biological staff work on each year and projects that we would hope to work on in the future. This effort is scheduled to be completed late next year.
Volunteer Program

        This one always draws a lot of interest. First and foremost, I can assure everyone the refuge will maintain a robust and comprehensive volunteer program into the future. In fact, I hope that in some ways we can expand upon the good thing we have going right now with our weekend-focused trips. In that sense, I hope the refuge will be able to recruit volunteers for day, week or longer tours in the future. There are many opportunities to do lots of different things at Hakalau that would cover most skill and ability levels and for different time periods for those with flexible schedules.

        We are hoping to eventually convert our current call-in/email volunteer reservation method to something internet based, where interested parties can immediately see on our website and determine where available dates and projects exist. We are working a on a simplified version to put on our website in the more immediate future. More to come on this one.

        We very much hope to bring on a temporary visitor services/volunteer coordinator next year that can take over the job that Baron has been doing for some many years and be the liaison between the refuge and volunteer community. This is a big ‘if’ but something we are looking at with hopes of making reality.

        Also, to compensate for a little less out planting in the future, we are working on developing a laundry list of additional tasks for volunteers to accomplish which will likely include weed removal, grounds keeping, assistance with biological projects, road brushing, and fence and facilities maintenance.
Outreach Program

        Aspen, the current Community Outreach Kupu Service member, has filled the schedule for her final three months with the refuge. She has a number of outreach events such as day camps with Kama'aina Kids in Hilo where youth grades K-6 have the opportunity to learn about their local Wildlife Refuge; assisting with Imi Pono No Ka Aina (organized by Three Mountain Alliance); and finally ending the summer, and her Kupu term, with a Family Outplanting Day on Saturday August 3rd. For this last event, Hawai'i Island families are invited to visit the refuge for a day of planting native trees and bird watching with the goal of connecting local youth to the aina via shared experiences with their ohana in nature. Keep your eyes on the refuge webpage, for exciting updates of the summer's events!
I nfrastructure

        Cleaning up our mess – Plain and simple, we are working to improve the overall appearance and operational efficiency of our Hakalau station. We are slowly picking away at all of the ‘debris’ piles scattered around the compound recycling where we can and tossing the rest. I anticipate a call out for help when we are ready to make the big push to get rid of the bulk of our junk.

        Boneyard – As part of the above, we will be creating a storage yard behind the shop for materials good and bad. This will greatly improve the station esthetics and make it easier for us to keep the place tidy.

        N. Middle Road Improvement contract – The refuge recently awarded a road improvement contract to Bolton, Inc. based in Kona to improve 2.25 miles of road from the station to the Nauhi road at the north end of Hakalau. This project will involve gravelling and compacting the travel route for the entire distance greatly improving our access to areas north of the compound in the longrun. Work will begin in early June and run through July or August.
Bruce Dempsey has joined the Hakalau Forest NWR staff as the new Maintenance Mechanic. He comes to us from Eastern Neck NWR, an island in Chesapeake Bay and part of the Chesapeake Bay NWRC, where he worked on facilities and roads with a cadre of volunteers for the last four years. He had been with the complex for about 10 years in total. Eastern Neck NWR is open to the public year round and has a farming program to benefit wildlife such as overwintering waterfowl, nesting osprey and bald eagle, and year-round residents such as fox, beaver, otter and white-tailed deer. Prior to coming over to the USFWS refuge system, Bruce did maintenance work for the National Park Service in the Washington D.C. area. He has been a professional welding instructor and owned his own heavy equipment sales and repair business. He served four years in the Navy SEA BEE where he gained considerable operational and maintenance experience especially in the area of hi-tech communications. He is a superb mechanic with over 40 years of experience and a detail-oriented craftsman.
Aspen Billiet is the current Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Community Outreach Kupu Service member. Aspen is nearing the end of her Conservation Leadership Development Program (CLDP) 11 month term with the refuge but has made the most of her time in this position thus far.

During her time with the refuge, Aspen has kept busy organizing and facilitating various outreach events including University classroom visits, K-12 classroom visits, tabling at the HCC and UHH career and Earth Day fairs, and most exciting of all, she has organized a T-shirt design contest asking local artists to submit artwork that they feel captures the essence of Hakalau Forest. From submissions the refuge will derive a new T-shirt, which Aspen will work with Friends members to have printed and distributed .
Aspen is in her second term as a Kupu CLDP service member. Beginning in August of 2017 she was part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Trail Maintenance crew as a kupu service member, followed by four months spent in the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry greenhouse growing native plants for Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance, again as Kupu service member.

With a B.A. in Studio Art, Aspen has found that Community Outreach is just the right role for her in the world of conservation as it involves field work, which she thoroughly enjoys, as well as the need for an artistic eye and a creative mindset in order to develop fresh, new outreach opportunities and materials.

Although Aspen’s CLDP term ends in August of this year she looks forward to finding similar opportunities, conducting community outreach, in the word of conservation, here on Hawai’i Island.

Patrick Hart
Professor and Chair, Department of Biology
University of Hawaii at Hilo
Hakalau Forest NWR is home to the most intact native forest bird community in the state of Hawaii. The high elevation and a lack of disease carrying mosquitoes is a major reason for this. Another, quite obvious to most people that have had a chance to spend time at Hakalau, is the abundance of large ‘ōhi‘a and koa trees. Large trees provide particularly abundant nectar and arthropod food resources for many honeycreeper species, and provide important nesting habitat for obligate cavity nesters like the Hawaii ‘ākepa. 
I was a UH Mānoa graduate student in the mid-1990’s studying birds at Hakalau and became very interested in the relationship between the birds and the trees. I noticed many of the largest ‘ōhi‘a and koa trees falling at what I thought was an alarming rate and began to wonder how long it takes trees to reach those massive sizes (1 meter or more in diameter for ohia, close to 2 meters for koa), and whether the giant trees in the forest would persist in the future. The best-known way to measure the age of a tree is to count the number of growth rings. Unfortunately, most tropical trees, ‘ōhi‘a included, don’t lay annual rings. Another way to estimate the age of trees is to measure how fast they grow at different size classes and use this information to create a curve that provides an estimate of tree age at each size-class. So- I began a long-term study in which I set up at total of two hundred 30m diameter vegetation plots spaced at 100m intervals within two 1-sq. km study areas at the Pua Akala and Pedro tracts at Hakalau. I tagged and measured the diameter of over 7000 trees of all species within the plots. Then, ten years later, I returned and remeasured all the tagged trees. 

The results were a bit surprising. First- while ‘ōhi‘a make up over 90% of all the trees at Hakalau, they are also among the slowest growing with a mean growth rate of only 1.3 mm/year. Only `ōhelo and kōlea grow more slowly, while koa grows the fastest (Fig. 1).

The growth rate of ‘ōhi‘a is also size-dependent – growth is slowest when they are young, then increases to about 3mm/year on average for the biggest trees in the forest (greater than 75cm diameter; Fig. 2).
So how old do ‘ōhi‘a get? Combining age-specific growth rates, ‘ōhi‘a greater than 75cm in diameter may average approximately 500 years old (Fig. 3)! That is among the oldest known ages for a broadleaf tree, particularly in the northern Hemisphere (though conifers get much older). In order to double check these age estimates, I took wood samples from the center of over 20 large, dead-fallen large trees at Hakalau and submitted them for radiocarbon dating. In most cases the radiocarbon age estimates overlapped with the growth rate-based estimates. With regards to koa, because they grow so much faster, most of the largest koa are likely no more than about 250 years old. 

What all this means is that the forest at Hakalau is truly an ancient one and worth protecting for its own sake. It is also interesting to consider that many of the individual trees likely provided resources for many now-extinct bird species such as mamo, `ō`ō, and `akialoa. And back to the original question- will the forest at Hakalau be around long enough to continue to support large populations of Hawaiian forest birds? The short answer is yes- large trees are getting replaced as fast, or faster than they fall, primarily because the forest is now fenced and protected from ungulates. 

Literature Cited

Hart, P.J. 2010. Tree growth and age in an ancient Hawaiian wet forest: vegetation dynamics at two spatial scales. Journal of Tropical Ecology 26:1-11. 

Hakalau Forest NWR is excited to announce this years T-shirt Design contest winner, local artist Sarah Martinsen!

 Mahalo Sarah for your contribution to the refuge. New T-shirts will be coming this fall featuring Sarah's work. Thank you to all artists who submitted entries, we received many quality submissions that represent the refuge well. You can expect to see all artists' work featured on refuge promotional items and media in the near future!

July 29 - Day trip to the Refuge: one opening and wait list

The July 29th Day Trip has one opening. We would like to have a couple more people on a wait list in case there are cancellations. If you are one of our newer members, or have never been to the Refuge, this is an ideal opportunity to visit the Refuge.

Meet at the Refuge Office (60 Nowelo St.) at 7am, driven to Refuge in Refuge vehicles, work project to assist the Refuge, birding/nature walk, return to Refuge Office around 5-5:30PM

Please email us at for questions and to register.
August 10, 11 and 12 - Friends' Service Trip: spaces available and date change

YES, there are spaces available for the Friends’ August Service Trip!
The trip dates shifted one day, starting on Saturday August 10 through Monday August 12. Meet at the refuge office Saturday morning, return Monday in the afternoon.

Activities: day of out-planting, half day of invasive control and/or green house weeding, and a birding/nature walk. Food, except for lunch the first day, will be central commissary, shared expenses.Stay in volunteer cabin.
Not a member of the Friends? To join, go to our website,, print out a membership form and mail with a check to our Post Office Box. 

To sign up for the service trip, send an email to .  

 August 3: An opportunity to connect keiki to the aina through a shared experience with family at the refuge.

Friends of Hakalau Forest, National Wildlife Refuge is a 501 ( C ) ( 3 ) organization and is recognized as a tax exempt non-profit organization by the Federal government and the State of Hawaii. We appreciate and thank you for your membership and your donations.