Monsanto Fund Donates $20,000 for Molokai Watershed Protection
Monsanto Molokai News Release
The Monsanto Fund awarded a $20,000 grant to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Hawaii for watershed protection at Kamakou Preserve on Molokai. Since 2006, the Monsanto Fund has contributed a total of $130,000 to TNC’s protection and restoration efforts of critical watershed and fragile ecosystems on Molokai.
Located high in the mountains of East Molokai, the 2,774-acre Kamakou Preserve is a rainforest like no other on the planet. This magnificent natural treasure not only shelters hundreds of native plants and animals, but also serves as an important source of water for the island and its people.
TNC’s work at Kamakou Preserve, in collaboration with the public and private landowners of the East Molokai Watershed Partnership, is focused on invasive animal and weed control.
“Molokai’s forested watersheds today are under constant assault from established and new invasive species,” said Ed Misaki, TNC’s Molokai Program Director. “Feral ungulates (hoofed animals) like wild pigs, goats and deer are steadily eroding fragile topsoil. Once this soil disturbance occurs, invasive plants that did not evolve here, like blackberry and strawberry guava, steadily displace our native forests and watersheds. Once lost, they may be impossible to fully restore at any price.”
Hawaii gardeners have the advantage of a year-round growing season that allows us to pick up plants any time of year and add them to our backyard collection. And local garden centers carry an abundance of ornamental shrubs, trees and herbs from which to choose.
The University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service wants to help home gardeners to be knowledgeable when choosing plant material. The UH Master Gardeners on Oahu have teamed up with the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to provide classes and demonstrations to the public. (See the Star-Advertiser’s Home & Garden calendar for class listings.)
What is an invasive species? Technically, according to HISC, an invasive species is an alien species — plant, animal, or microbe transported by humans to a location outside its native range — whose introduction has caused or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
Basically, foreign plant material that propagates at warp speed and those seeds or plant parts that can travel long distances to naturally forested areas are termed invasive. These plants often demonstrate rapid and aggressive growth, production of numerous seeds that are spread easily by wind, wing or water, and the ability to grow under many different soil and climatic conditions.
What is the impact of invasive species? It’s the plants whose “keiki” reach the natural forested areas that take the largest toll on our native species and ecosystems. They threaten native plant habitats, reducing the number of native plants and affecting plant biodiversity, as well as the insect biodiversity that depends on those plants.
To the writer of the Dec. 6 letter regarding the suspicious plant found along a Maui Lani road: Thanks for keeping your eyes open. Members of the public are the first to notice incipient invasive species. Public reports are essential to protecting Hawaii from invasive species. The most efficient way to prevent establishment of invasive species is to nip the infestation in the bud immediately.
The purple-flowered plant you noticed along the Maui Lani roadway is most likely a species of crown flower, Calotropis procera. Forest and Kim Starr regularly drive Maui’s roads mapping the distribution of invasive plants. Calotropis was first detected in 2001 and is widespread and naturalized on Maui. The plant is also on Hawaii island, Kauai and Lanai. It is indeed invasive, rating as a high-risk plant by the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment, a background check to predict a plant’s invasive potential based on its biology.
Unfortunately, Calotropis is too widespread to be eradicated from the islands
In Western Africa, a medicinal plant teeters on the brink of extinction. Poison devil’s pepper, or Rauvolfia vomitoria, has been overharvested by local people using the plant to treat ailments ranging from psychoses to indigestion. Some healers claim the plant’s chemicals protect the spirit of the patient against witchcraft. However, in Hawaii, R. vomitoria is responsible for an ailment of our natural areas – invading forests with amazing speed. The shrubby tree with an awful name could be at least as invasive, if not more so, than miconia.
Native to subtropical regions of Western Africa, R. vomitoria can live at elevations from sea-level to 5,000 feet. It reaches reproductive maturity within two years and, in Hawaii, flowers and produces fruit year-round. The numerous seeds are contained in an orange fruit eaten and are spread by birds. The plant grows extremely fast: Within five years a seedling will be 12-18 inches across and 30 feet tall.
Mowing or cutting doesn’t discourage this plant; a patch of R. vomitoria on Hawaii Island was 3 to 4 feet tall two months after mowing. “Ralph,” as the plant is unaffectionately called by field crews frantically working to contain this plant, has invaded gulches, pastures and waterways across 2,000 to 3,000 acres in Kohala. This superweed has spread into the mixed ohia forest at 1,600 feet elevation but could expand much farther, becoming a serious pest in agricultural and natural areas. Perhaps most disturbing is R. vomitoria’s ability to outcompete some of the most invasive plant species of tropical forests, gaining a foothold amid eucalyptus and strawberry guava despite a lack of sunlight under the canopy.
After 30 years of protecting native animals and plants, the head of Hawaii’s agricultural inspection operation leaves behind a short-handed and beleaguered team today, worried that invading species are slipping into the islands.
“Shipments are backed up but are still being inspected. That’s the good part,” said Domingo Cravalho Jr., who is retiring as inspection and compliance section chief for the state Department of Agriculture. “Because of the lack of resources and lack of inspectors and the reduction in the amount of good inspections, things are getting through. …
“It’s overwhelming at times and some individuals may be overlooking things or bypassing things. Under the circumstances, we just don’t have enough eyes and ears out there.”
By LISSA FOX
Near Kualapuu, Molokai, there are Makahiki and hula grounds. Last year, 850 fast-growing invasive trees covered the platforms, where ancient Hawaiians played games as part of the Makahiki festival, the annual celebration marked by several months of peace, thanksgiving and feasting.
These trees originated from the jungles of the Molucca Islands, 5,000 miles away in Indonesia. The islands are part of the Wallaceae “hot spot,” an area of Indonesia with some of the world’s highest levels of biodiversity, including more than 10,000 plant species and 650 different bird species.
Albizia, or Falcataria moluccana, has at least one trait that gives it an advantage over Hawaii’s native plants. Albizia is a nitrogen-fixing tree; bacteria in albizia roots convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form available for the tree. These fertilizer factories built into the roots give albizia an extra boost; albizia can reach 30 feet tall in just two years.
Scientists are on the trail of the little-understood meat-eaters like the California cobra lily and Venus’ flytrap, in decline amid rampant poaching and other human encroachment.
By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Quincy, Calif. —
“This is the easy part,” says Barry Rice, half-sliding, half-falling down a ravine through a latticework of dead branches.
Decades ago, lush stands of Darlingtonia californica — emerald plants coiled like fanged cobras ready to pounce — grew at this spot in the northern reaches of the Sierra Nevada.
Deep in the ravine, the air is hot and dead. Pieces of bark that have sloughed off trees make every step a danger — nature’s equivalent of a thousand forgotten skateboards cluttering a driveway. Slate tinkles underfoot, and the ground feels like stale angel-food cake: stiff yet porous.
Rice, a botanist at UC Davis, is not the first to hunt the cobra lily here in Butterfly Valley. In 1875, amateur botanist Rebecca Austin fed the plants raw mutton and carefully observed how they digested it.
Yet to this day, much of the plants’ biology and habitat remain unknown — which is why Rice is here, trying to find established populations.
Near the bottom of the crevice, the ground becomes moist. The air cools and softens. This is where the cobra lilies would be. “When you see them, they look almost like animals,” Rice says.
But there are none to be seen.
Rice does find meat-eaters in some of the other places he checks out on this July weekend. But in three of seven places where they used to be, the plants have vanished. It’s a sad story that is playing out across the country in the valleys, bogs and bottoms where carnivorous plants once thrived.
The cobra lily, also known as the California pitcher plant, is comparatively lucky: Its stocks may be dwindling but its broad habitat affords something of a safety net.
Many of its brethren are faring far worse: insect-devouring butterworts, bladderworts, sundews, other pitcher plants and most famous of all, the Venus’ flytrap. The bulk of their U.S. habitat has disappeared, especially in the Southeast, mostly because of human encroachment of various kinds: development, poaching and suppression of naturally occurring wildfires.
Woodland fires remove taller foliage that keeps the stubby meat-eaters from getting enough sunlight. But because of development, allowing fires to burn in their habitats is often out of the question.
In California, alders have grown tall enough in some places to shade out the cobra lily.
In Georgia, botanists have hacked through thickening Appalachian forest in an effort to save the state’s last remaining colony of mountain purple pitcher plants.
In North Carolina, of about 250 Venus’ flytrap sites that existed in the 1930s, about two-thirds are left and just 32 have a good shot at survival, said Rob Evans, coordinator of the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program.
What plants remain are often plucked from swamps and bogs by poachers and hawked at roadside stands, farmers markets, nurseries or on the Internet.
“I remember visiting [one site] for the first time 30 years ago and there were probably 50 acres where you couldn’t take a step without there being a flytrap, and 30 years later, not a flytrap to be found,” said Johnny Randall, assistant director for conservation at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. “Literally hundreds of flytraps had been poached out of there.”
They possess a notable trait bequeathed by as much as 125 million years of evolution: the ability to capture and digest insects (and reputedly rats, in the case of Nepenthes rajah of Borneo, which can grow more than 3 feet high). Because they draw nutrients such as nitrogen from the carcasses of bugs instead of relying on their roots to extract minerals from the ground, they can live in the poor-quality soil found in bogs.
Most meat-eating plants passively trap their prey, relying on a bug’s clumsiness or carelessness. Sundews exude a sticky substance that traps insects; the many varieties of pitcher plant just wait for bugs to fall into their vases.
Some, like the cobra lily, have downward-pointing hairs to prevent insects from climbing out, and transparent patches on their leaves to trick bugs into heading for false exits.
The Venus’ flytrap is one of the few that actively traps its prey. When an unsuspecting fly, lured by scent, lands on a trigger vein in the leaf, the leaf snaps shut like a jaw, caging the victim with sawtooth-like spines.
Carl Linnaeus, known as the father of modern taxonomy, at first dismissed reports of the plant, convinced that such a thing could not exist. Charles Darwin, in his little-known work “Insectivorous Plants,” said that of all plants, the Venus’ flytrap was “one of the most wonderful in the world.”
Its native habitat is limited to a few parts of North and South Carolina, where by some estimates there are as few as 35,800 left. Many more survive “in captivity,” flytraps being one of the few carnivorous plants grown for a wider market.
Plants cultivated legally can be purchased in nurseries or the garden sections of hardware stores and supermarkets.
But taking carnivorous species from protected areas is illegal in many states. Law enforcement officials in the southeastern U.S. have learned to look for the telltale signs of poachers: A pickup truck parked on the side of the road bordering swampland is a giveaway.
Sgt. Jeremy Wall recalls heading into North Carolina’s Green Swamp one day in fall 2007 after getting a call from members of a hunting club. They’d spotted a Nissan pickup on the side of the road in the middle of the 16,000-acre swamp.
Wall suspected drugs at first: The swamp provides cover for anyone looking to grow marijuana. Then a man emerged from the woods with a backpack, and Wall knew what he was dealing with. The pack was stuffed not with pot, but with purple pitcher plants. The man and two companions had uprooted 500 of them, Wall said.
Still, they faced minimal punishment: The typical fine for a first offense in North Carolina is $100, plus a $125 court fee.
Sometimes poachers don’t pay at all. Lt. Matthew Long of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission once encountered a truck sitting on a road in the Green Swamp, with no driver in sight. He and other officers followed the trail into the swamp, nearly stumbling over two women who had collected 295 flytraps.
“We stepped on them, laying flat down on their bellies, faces down, camouflage, kneepads,” Long said. “They were digging into [the plants] with butcher knives.”
Hey ladies, he recalled asking. What’s going on?
Oh, we were just taking a nap, they replied.
The women were arrested but were later released without having to pay fines, according to the local district attorney’s office.
If the risks of poaching are low, so are the returns. The plants sell for 25 cents each on the black market, said Ron Robertson, an enforcement officer with the North Carolina commission.
Nevertheless, poaching “is in an upswing,” Long said. “Because of the economy, people are more desperate.… Even people who are scared to death of snakes — that’s what they’re willing to do.”
Most law enforcement agencies don’t have the resources to pursue poachers aggressively. That’s why it’s rare to catch them in the act. Instead, federal and state officials and conservation groups focus on keeping secret the locations of remaining sites and on educating the public on the need to respect and preserve meat-eating plants.
In Oregon, officials have set up a site dedicated solely to the preservation of the cobra lily.
In North Carolina, the Nature Conservancy operates the Green Swamp, home to at least 14 different species of carnivorous plants, as a preserve. When poachers are nabbed, conservationists and government officials help replant the confiscated species in secret locations on protected property.
Sometimes, the best way to save native carnivorous plants is to kill nonnative ones, said Rice of UC Davis. Overenthusiastic amateur collectors have taken to transplanting meat-eating species in wild lands far from their native habitats. This can introduce disease and other invasive plants, Rice said.
He makes a merciless example of any interlopers he finds, hoping that enthusiasts will think twice about sticking plants where they don’t belong.
In California’s Butterfly Valley, Rice’s loud “Aha!” rings out in a forest glade. He has spotted a sundew from New Jersey, Drosera hybrida, hiding among its Californian cousins in an inch-deep layer of water.
He kneels and plucks it out of the soil. “Carnivorous plant growers will just die at what I’m about to do,” he says minutes later, having climbed out of the valley and onto the road.
With ceremony, he holds the uprooted alien high in the air, then drops it and grinds it to bits with his heel.
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times
There’s not enough for all projects planned, proposed; viability of cloud forest a worry
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer
WAILUKU – Building out all the developments that have already been planned or proposed on Lanai would result in more water being pumped out of the island’s wells than could be sustained, according to the county’s draft Lanai Water Use and Development Plan.
The plan also finds that as much as 28 percent of the water pumped on the island is unaccounted-for due to loss or waste in the system, and that the island’s watershed is so fragile that a loss of the Lanaihale cloud forest could reduce water levels in the island’s only viable aquifer by 50 percent.
Here is Hawaii’s piece of the pie:
Wildland Fire Management – Forest Health (Multi-state)
- Alaska; California; Oregon; Washington; Hawaii – 1 project – $1,795,000
- California; Hawaii – 1 project – $2,190,000
Posted by Brian Allmer on September 9, 2009
78 projects in 20 States and the District of Columbia will receive a total of $89 million to address problems caused by fire, insects, invasive species and disease
WASHINGTON, September 9, 2009 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for forest health protection projects. These 78 projects will receive almost $89 million and are located on forested lands in 30 states. This funding will be used to restore forest health conditions on Federal, State, and private forest and rangelands recovering from fires, forest insects and disease outbreaks. These conditions weaken affected lands and threaten the benefits these lands provide, including clean water, clean air, habitat for wildlife, resistance to wildfire, and recreational opportunities for the public.