Funding will help with fencing and removal of hooved animals as well as creating firebreaks
Forests on the southern slopes of Molokai are about to receive additional protections from threats like wildfires, erosion and flooding thanks to a $1.8 million award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced Friday.
The funding will go toward proven tools such as fencing and removal of hooved animals, as well as creating firebreaks, which will lead to clearer ocean waters, vibrant reefs, restored plants and trees and fewer disruptions along the island’s main road that stretches from Kaunakakai to the east end, DLNR said.
“We are excited to support DLNR’s work to restore native forests, which will help to reduce risks of flooding, landslides and fire to communities on Molokai and will lead to healthier habitat for native species,” Erika Feller, director of Coastal and Marine Conservation for the foundation, said in a news release.
State Sen. J. Kalani English, who represents East Maui, Molokai and Lanai, said that watershed capital improvement project funds authorized by the state provided most of the match needed to apply for the grant. The larger Watershed Initiative is directing an additional $2 million of state CIP and operating funds to protect Molokai’s forests and employ Molokai residents.
“I’m delighted that this state funding has been able to attract more federal and private funding that will create more jobs on Molokai while helping preserve our forests and reefs,” said state Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who also represents East Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
Some federal and foundation funds are available only when a matching investment can be demonstrated, the news release explained. Since 2013, State Watershed Initiative funds have brought in more than $36 million in federal, county and private funds for forest protection projects statewide.
Molokai’s remaining native forests play a crucial role in the island’s ecosystem by holding soil and absorbing rainwater. Funding helps state agencies and nonprofits to continue to protect the forests and restore areas converted to bare dirt by wildfires and hooved animals. The East Moloka’i Watershed Partnership, led by The Nature Conservancy, involves DLNR and other agencies, landowners and community organizations working to develop a landscape-level management plan to address problems across the south slope, where dirt washes down to the ocean and clogs fishponds, kills corals that need sunlight to grow and feeds invasive algae that smothers the reef.
“The ‘olelo no’eau (Hawaiian proverb) ‘Ina e lepo ke kumu wai, e ho’ea ana ka lepo ikai’ means ‘If the source of the water is dirty, muddy water will travel to the sea,’ “ said Ulalia Woodside, director of The Nature Conservancy, Hawai’i chapter. “By restoring forests, we counter that possibility and provide jobs that allow the people of Molokai to give back to the nature that sustains them.”
County officials also expressed support for funding and emphasized the importance of protecting the island’s forests.
“Each budget session, our Maui County Council allocates significantly to forest watershed protection efforts countywide, and being from Molokai, where subsistence is our way of life, funding resource management is highly prioritized,” said Council Vice-Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who also serves as the Economic Development and Budget Committee chair.”
Stacy Crivello, Molokai community liaison for Mayor Michael Victorino, added that “Molokai depends on our natural resources to sustain our lifestyle.
“Protecting our watershed and restoring our forests protect our reefs,” Crivello said. “Taking care of mauka takes care of makai.”