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VIDEO: Battle Against Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Includes Top-Notch Technology

With 75,000 acres of Hawai‘i island ʻōhiʻa forest now showing symptoms of the fungal disease known as Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death, federal and state agencies and non-profit partners are using an array of high technology to detect its spread.

“The battle against the two types of Ceratocystis fungus that causes Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death has always been a hugely collaborative effort,” said Rob Hauff, State Protection Forester for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW). “Now,” Hauff explained, “the collaboration between the agencies and organizations engaged in the fight against this devastating disease not only continues, but is expanding, particularly on the detection front.”  Early detection is considered critical in helping to identify Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death’s spread on the Big Island and to other islands and to provide data and scientific information to aide researchers working hard to find a way to stop it.

During a demonstration today, researchers showed off three of the high-tech survey/detection tools currently involved in mapping and on-site testing for the presence of Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death.

Dr. Carter Atkinson a Research Microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey based at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, developed what the team from the Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BISC) fondly calls a “lab in a suitcase.”  Recently the BISC team collected ʻōhiʻa samples from towering trees in the Laupāhoehoe Forest Reserve on the Big Island’s east coast. Prior to the development, earlier this year, of Atkinson’s portable testing laboratory, all samples were sent to the USDA ARS Daniel K. Inouye U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo.  Since the cause of Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death was first discovered in 2014, Dr. Lisa Keith who runs the main testing lab, has been overwhelmed with samples.  Bill Buckley, the Forest Response Program Coordinator for BISC said, “The lab in a suitcase has been really nice.  We can collect our samples in the field, and nearby under a portable tent the testing equipment is set and ready to go.  Within a few hours we get preliminary results. In the remote location’s we often work in, this is really beneficial. If we get a positive result, we then can go immediately back out and do additional sampling to get a better sense of how widespread the infection is. This greatly speeds up management decisions.”  Positive samples are sent to Dr. Keith’s lab for further testing and verification.

On the same day BISC tested samples in the Laupāhoehoe Forest Reserve, another team of researchers prepares to launch an unmanned aerial system (UAS) off the side of Stainback Road, one of the epicenters of the infection. Dr. Ryan Perroy of the Department of Geography & Environmental Science at UH Hilo and his team are now spending about 25% of their time flying the UAS for Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death mapping and detection.

Perroy said the “drone” has been in use in the battle against Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death for about a year and a half.  “It’s very good for monitoring changes in the forest on an individual tree basis, because the resolution of the imagery is so fine that you can see individual leaves and branches,” Perroy explained. That allows researchers not only to see changes over areas already infected by the fungus, but to detect suspected new cases. As valuable as the UAS imagery is, Perroy said it’s very difficult to fly over ʻōhiʻa forests every month and see the rapidity of tree decline. “It’s not the best day when we come back and we see more and more trees down since the last time we flew. Our efforts are one piece of the larger effort to better understand the disease and better protect our forests,” Perroy concluded.

Above, at 8,000 feet, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) is in the process of remapping roughly 650,000 acres of ʻōhiʻa forest on Hawai‘i island. This is the second time this twin-engine aircraft with millions of dollars of highly sophisticated equipment on board has peered into the very structural makeup and chemistry of individual trees to measure forest health.  The first time was in January 2016. This month’s flights will provide additional 3D imaging and data to fuse with ground data and the UAS data to give scientists and resource managers a really clear picture of the scope of spread of Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death.

Dr. Greg Asner leads the CAO effort. He explained, “Our 3D imaging system means we see the leaves in the forest canopy on individual trees.  We can determine tree heights, the tree’s structure and the chemical make-up.” Utilizing imaging spectrometers, mounted in the rear of the plane, along with laser-based technology, super high resolution GPS, and a high-end, military-grade intertial motion unit (IMU) Asner and his team are about two-thirds finished remapping the Big Island’s ʻōhiʻa forests, in this second round of flight missions.

He added, “Our work provides the whole island view and that interfaces with all the field work and with some of the high-resolution mapping that’s happening locally within some of the canopies.  We give the big picture, landscape scale view, but also with a lot of detail.”

All of the researchers and managers working to combat Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death agree that their collaborative efforts are about the only silver lining to what is a serious threat to Hawai‘i’s most important native tree. Ōhiʻa protect the state’s watersheds by providing a sponge-effect to allow rainwater to slowly seep into underground aquifers.  They also help prevent erosion and the spread of invasive species and they are very culturally significant and prized in lei making.

“I think it’s really encouraging in this daunting threat to our precious native ecosystem, to have a community of natural resource managers and scientists come together to find a solution,” said Philipp LaHaela Walter, State Survey and Resource Forester for DLNR/DOFAW. He added, “I think this experience of having dedicated partners, complete collaboration and the deployment of top-notch technology has greatly improved cross-agency communications and efficiency and we all hope eventually leads to a treatment for Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death.”

Top-Notch Technology in the Fight Against Rapid Ohia Death VNR 7-19-17 from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

Mortality Thought to be Caused by Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Increases By 50% – No Evidence Fungus Has Spread to Other Islands

The most recent aerial surveys of ohia forests on O‘ahu, Maui, Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i, Moloka‘i,and Lāna‘i paint a good-news, bad-news picture. The good news is there are no confirmed cases of this fast-spreading fungal infection in ʻōhiʻa forests on any island other than the Big Island. The bad news is, the area of mortality thought to be caused by ROD has increased 50% on Hawai‘i island compared to DLNR’s previous survey in 2016.

DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) State Resource and Survey Forester Philipp LaHeala Walter explained, “Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death continues to spread at an alarming speed. It appears the original outbreaks are increasing in size and the disease is moving north along the Hamakua coast of Hawai‘i Island.” He added, “The aerial surveys we conducted across the state over the past couple of months, give us the first indications of the presence of this disease, but until we do ground surveys and sample the trees showing symptoms of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, we can’t positively confirm it, as there are numerous diseases that can damage or kill ʻōhiʻa.”

Specially trained surveyors assessed over 82% (over 780,000 acres) of the state’s ʻōhiʻa forest for the most recent helicopter surveys. On the Big Island they spotted an additional 26,000 acres of forest where ʻōhiʻa trees had brown leaves or were devoid of leaves. That’s added to more than 48,000 acres identified in the July 2016 survey, giving Hawai‘i island a potential Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death infestation of some 75,000 acres.

Survey technology continues to become more sophisticated and survey teams on all islands are using standardized methodologies both from the air and on the ground in follow-up confirmation surveys. The state legislature has provided $1.5 million dollars for the next two fiscal years for the continuation of surveys and other Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death initiatives to try and identify its cause and stop its spread. DOFAW Protection Forester Rob Hauff said, “The quarantine imposed by the State Dept. of Agriculture, on the movement of ʻōhiʻa wood and plant materials between islands, is helping prevent the spread of this fungal disease off of Hawai‘i Island. We continue to encourage everyone to become aware of the quarantine rules and to practice the appropriate protocols when working or playing in any of Hawai‘i’s forests.”

Rapid Ohia Death Statewide Survey Results from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

New Portable Testing Tool Speeds Detection of Suspected Rapid `Ōhi`a Death Pathogens

Researchers have developed a new, more efficient tool for detecting the pathogens believed to be the cause of Rapid `Ōhi`a Death (ROD), according to a recently published study by the Hawaiʻi Cooperative Studies Unit at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, the USGS Pacific Islands Ecosystem Research Center (PIERC), and USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS).
The authors of the report have developed a portable lab for diagnostic field testing for the two species of fungal pathogens that infect `ōhi`a (Metrosideros polymorpha). The portable lab, which provides quick results and reduces instrumentation costs, is currently being used by the Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC) to detect infected trees and identify the distribution of the pathogens.

“Having this portable lab gives us the capability to do our own diagnostics and get a quicker answer about whether or not a tree is positive for ROD. The result then allows us to take management actions right away or do more targeted testing,” said Bill Buckley, Forest Response coordinator for BIISC and leader of their ROD Early Detection and Rapid Response Team.

The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture is also planning to use the portable lab to help screen shipments of `ōhi`a logs for the pathogens.

ROD was first identified in the lower Puna District in 2014, and now infects more than 50,000 acres of private and state forest lands on Hawaiʻi Island. ROD is a serious threat and imperils long-term sustainability of watersheds managed by Department of Interior agencies, the State of Hawaiʻi, and State Watershed Partnerships.

For more information on the study and its findings, visit https://dspace.lib.hawaii.edu/handle/10790/3025.

Community Presentation – Raising Awareness of Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death

The Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM), ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, and University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Department of Physics & Astronomy, continue their community presentations this Thursday, March 23 starting at 7 pm. The free Maunakea Speaker Series will be held in the UH Hilo Wentworth Hall: Room 1. On-campus parking after 4 pm is open and available without charge.

Raising Awareness of Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death

Dr. Friday will speak on Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death, a fungal disease that is causing extensive mortality across tens of thousands of acres of ‘ōhi’a (Metrosideros polymorpha) forests on Hawai’i Island. Loss of these native forests threatens native species, watershed protection, landscape and cultural resources. Dr. Friday will provide updates on what is currently known about the pathogens, how the disease moves, how it is being monitored, ongoing research, and measures being taken to limit the spread of the disease.

The Maunakea Speaker Series is a monthly scholar-focused presentation in partnership with the Office of Maunakea Management, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Department of Physics & Astronomy. For more information visit malamamaunakea.org or call 808-933-0734.

Hawaii to Receive $3.1 Million to Fight Invasive Species

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard announced today that Hawaiʻi will receive $3.1 million to fight invasive species like the coconut rhinoceros beetle, coffee berry borer, Rapid Ohia Death, and fruit flies. The funding, allocated from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in accordance with Section 10007 of the 2014 Farm Bill, is part of 513 projects supported nationwide that aim to prevent the introduction or spread of plant pests and diseases that threaten U.S. agriculture and the environment, as well as ensure the availability of a healthy supply of clean plant stock.

In Hawaiʻi, invasive species like the coffee berry borer, fruit fly, and macadamia felted coccid have cost our farmers millions, and put hundreds of farms, thousands of local workers, and our agriculture industry at great risk,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “We need to provide more support to our farmers who contribute so much to our community and our economy.  This funding will provide Hawaiʻi with critical resources to combat these invasive pests.”

“The University of Hawaiʻi is very pleased to hear that a new project has been funded through USDA-APHIS on the management of the coffee berry borer in Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico,” said Ray Carruthers, Specialist at the University of Hawaiʻi College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “The main thrust of this effect will be to coordinate control efforts with on-going Federal, State and local projects on CBB management, along with the additional development of new insect biological control technologies. We feel that developing, testing and the eventual use of insect parasitoids will be a key for long-term sustainable management of the CBB in both Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico.”

Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard introduced the Areawide Integrated Pest Management (AIPM) Act (H.R.3893) and the Macadamia Tree Health Initiative (H.R.6249) in the 114th Congress to fight invasive species in Hawaiʻi and across the United States, and to fund critical research for invasive species like the macadamia felted coccid. In August, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard conducted an agriculture tour on Hawaiʻi Island where she met with local agriculture professionals and researchers about invasive species in Hawaiʻi.

Today’s announcement includes the following funding for projects in Hawaiʻi:

  • $87,771 for emerging diseases, viral spillover, and the risk to agricultural pollinators (Academia)
  • $265,811 for the USDA Compendium of Fruit Fly Host Information (CoFFHI) (Academia)
  • $27,600 for the National Survey of Honey Bee Pests and Diseases in Hawaiʻi (State Government)
  • $148,000 for the Palm Commodity Survey (Academia)
  • $165,500 for Hawaiʻi Pre-Clearance X-ray Support (APHIS)
  • $260,000 for Genomic approaches to fruit fly exclusion and pathway analysis (year 3) (Academia)
  • $303,000 for Genomic approaches to fruit fly exclusion and pathway analysis (year 3) (Non-APHIS-Federal)
  • $42,090 for Little Fire Ant Education for Nursery Supply Stores (Academia)
  • $40,995 for Integrated and Sustainable Approach to Manage New Invasive Pests of Ficus Trees in Hawaiʻi’s Urban Landscapes – Year 2 (Academia)
  • $41,000 for Activators and Attractants for Giant African Snail (Academia)
  • $120,000 for Response to Rapid Ohia Death, a disease threatening forests (State Government)
  • $125,000 for Systems approach for the management of coffee berry borer in Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico with emphasis on biological control (Academia)
  • $100,000 for Systems approach for the management of coffee berry borer in Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico with emphasis on biological control (State Government)
  • $115,000 for Systems approach for the management of coffee berry borer in Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico with emphasis on biological control (Non-APHIS-Federal)
  • $975,000 for Response to Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle in Hawaiʻi (Academia)
  • $250,000 for Response to Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle in Hawaiʻi (State Government)

Rapid Ohia Death Kills Forest Giant and Confirms Spread to Hamakua

Twin Tests Verify Fungal Disease Killed Centuries Old Tree

From the road, in the Laupahoehoe Section of the Hilo Forest Reserve, Steve Bergfeld of the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources spots the enormous, towering, ōhiʻa tree; its thick branches now completely without leaves.  The Hawai’i Island Branch Manager for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife wants to get a close-up look at the tree, after a technician first spotted it and took samples a week ago.  Two laboratory tests have confirmed that this very old tree was killed by the fast-moving fungal infection known as Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death.

ohia-death2Across Hawai’i Island, the disease is killing trees and devastating tens of thousands of acres of native forest. First reported in the Puna District in 2010, the latest aerial surveys show that the fungus has impacted nearly 50,000 acres of forest here.

Named for the rapidity in which it kills infected trees, the loss of the 100-130 foot tall ōhiʻa in the Laupahoehoe forest, and perhaps others around it, shows the disease has spread to the island’s eastern side, along the Hamakua Coast.  Bergfeld observed, “It’s devastating to look at the forest and the damage Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death is doing to our ecosystem and our watersheds. That tree is a giant in the forest. It also supports a lot of other plant life and bird life. It was an important part of our ecosystem. These trees have been here for hundreds of years and to see them go down to a disease like this is really heartbreaking.”

ohia-death1ʻŌhiʻa trees are culturally significant and their flowers are prized for lei making. Foresters consider ōhiʻa the most important species for protecting the state’s forested watersheds for its dense canopy, where virtually all domestic water supplies originate.

That’s why a strong collaboration between state and federal government agencies and conservation organizations is actively researching the cause of the disease, potential treatments, and the establishment of quarantines and protocols to prevent further spread.

ohia-death3The identification of this diseased tree is the latest example of this cooperative effort.  The tree was spotted by a technician from the U.S. Forest Service’s Institute of Pacific Island Forestry, who collected the wood samples for lab testing.  Verification of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, as the trees cause of death, was done by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo.

An entomologist from the University of Hawai’i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Extension Service also collected samples for research that suggests beetles are a primary cause for the spread of the fungus.

ohia-deathBergfeld explains the next steps involving experts from the Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death working group. “We’ll put everyone’s heads together and see what the best management strategy will be for this particular tree.  I assume, more than likely, we’ll fell the tree to get it out of the forest and cover it with tarps to keep insects from putting out frass (the powdery refuse or fragile perforated wood produced by the activity of boring insects), into the air,” he said.

Experts are very concerned that with the confirmation of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death in this tree, the disease has spread to a previously unaffected area farther up the Hamakua Coast: a forest already impacted by a 2013-2014 outbreak of the Koa looper, a native insect that defoliates entire koa trees during rare, unexplained outbreaks.
Governor David Ige, lead scientists, and policy makers engaged in the fight against Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, will gather for the first-ever summit on the disease at the State Capitol on

Wednesday, November 30, 2016.  The event is open to the public and is scheduled from

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. in the Capitol Auditorium.  More information on this to follow.

Local Artist Launches Crowdfunding Campaign to Combat Native Tree Disease

This week, Hawai’i artist and documentary filmmaker Laurie Sumiye launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise awareness and prevent the spread of Rapid Ohia Death (ROD), a fungus killing swaths of native ‘ohia forest on Hawaii Island.

iloveohiaOn October 24th, “I Love Ohia: A Forest Fundraiser” began accepting donations on the social change crowdfunding site, StartSomeGood. The campaign has raised over half of its $4,000 goal in just three days.

The fundraiser will pay for decontamination kits for the public to prevent the spread of the disease. Supporters receive rewards with the artist’s signature drawings on stickers, tshirts and prints. If the campaign exceeds its goal, monies will go towards test kits for landowners to identify diseased trees on their property. Test kit samples will be used to aid researchers in discovering a cure for ROD.

Ms. Sumiye is collaborated on the effort with outreach specialists from Department of Land and Natural Resources and University of Hawai’i to figure out a new way to engage the public to help protect the future of Hawaii’s native forests.

“I was inspired to help my friends Anya Tagawa and Corie Yanger, who work in Hilo doing amazing outreach work with ROD. When I heard they needed help to fund ROD conservation projects, I immediately offered my ‘ohi’a artwork and volunteered my video skills to the cause,” said Sumiye.

The local-born artist from Mililani previously worked with them when she lived in Hilo for a year to do research for her environmental art and documentary projects.

ABOUT: StartSomeGood is an Australia-based crowdfunding platform for social impact projects and organizations. Their focus is on social entrepreneurship as a vehicle for creating change.

Crowdfunding link:
https://startsomegood.com/i-love-ohia

Rapid Ohia Death Continues March Across Big Island Native Forests

A series of aerial surveys of six Hawaiian Islands reveals that the fungal disease, known as Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death has impacted nearly 50,000 acres of native forest on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. That’s an increase of some 13,000 acres from surveys done earlier in 2016. “It’s important to note that the aerial surveys still need verification by conducting ground-truthing and lab tests,” said Philipp Lahaela Walter, State Resource & Survey Forester for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW). While some of the increase is due to expanding the survey area, much of it is due to new tree mortality.

Images courtesy of DLNR

Images courtesy of DLNR

Lahaela Walter and his team flew in helicopters over vast tracts of forest on Hawai‘i Island, O‘ahu, Maui, Moloka‘i, Kaua‘i, and Lana‘i, criss-crossing the landscape to look for tell-tale signs of the disease. Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, first described by scientists as a previously unknown fungus in 2014, kills trees indiscriminately and often quite quickly. “While we believe, based on the aerial survey work, that the disease continues to destroy hundreds of thousands of native ‘ohi‘a lehua on the Big Island, we saw scant evidence that the fungus is killing trees on the other islands. We did spot trees that could be dying of other causes, but so far none of the samples has been positive for the fungus (Cereatocystis) that causes Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. Again we need to conduct ground surveys and either confirm or discount the presence of the disease in laboratory tests,” added Lahaela Walter. On the Big Island, just over 47,000 acres or nine percent (9%) of the forest surveyed showed symptoms of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death; brown or no leaves.

rod2“The quarantine measures put into place by the Hawai‘i Dept. of Agriculture appear to be stopping its spread to other islands,” according to DOFAW’s Rob Hauff. “These rules require inspections of soil and plant materials and prohibit, except by permit, interisland movement of any part of a native ‘ohi‘a tree,” Hauff said.

Highly valued for their beauty and significance in Hawaiian culture, native ‘ohi‘a lehua forests cover approximately 865,000 acres of land across the state and are considered the primary species providing habitat for countless plants, animals and invertebrates. These forests protect watersheds that provide significant agriculture and drinking water across the state. Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death threatens the State’s tropical forests and delicate ecosystems and ultimately could jeopardize local water supplies and Hawaiʻi’s economic vitality.

rod3The University of Hawai‘i Cooperative Extension Service and the USDA Agricultural Research Service assisted with planning for the helicopter surveys using specialized equipment. A team of experts from DLNR/DOFAW, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, Hawaii’s Invasive Species Committees, and the National Park Service/Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park conducted the surveys.

Research into treatments for the particular fungus that causes Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death continues at the USDA Agricultural Research Service lab in Hilo. Investigation into how it spreads is also being conducted with potential culprits being: insects, underground via roots, on small wood or dust particles, on shoes and equipment, and possibly on animals. Ultimately scientists hope that by identifying what is spreading the fungus they’ll be able to mitigate its devastating impacts.

rod4

In announcing additional funding for the fight against Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death, Hawai‘i U.S. Senator Brian Schatz said, “This is an ecological emergency, and it requires everyone working together to save Hawai‘i Island’s native forests. I’m pleased to see our federal partners step up to help. The additional funding will make a big difference, and it will give us the tools to understand the disease, develop better management responses, and protect our ‘Ōhiʻa.”

Interior Department and Senator Brian Schatz Announce Additional Federal Support to Combat Rapid Ohia Death

In response to a request from Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), the U.S. Department of the Interior announced today $497,000 in additional federal funding to combat a tree-killing fungus that causes Rapid ‘Ohia Death (ROD), a disease that threatens the State’s tropical forests and delicate ecosystems which could jeopardize local water supplies and Hawai‘i’s economic vitality. The funding comes on the eve of the World Conservation Congress that is convening for the first time in the United States this week in Honolulu.

Rapid Ohia Death

Today’s funding announcement immediately activates an Early Detection Rapid Response Team (EDRR Team) and leverages another $673,000 of in-kind Federal contributions to suppress or contain a disease that potentially could have enormous biological, economic, social and cultural repercussions for the Aloha State. The EDRR Team comprised of Federal and state agencies and a consortium of scientists will immediately begin to conduct field surveys for the disease, support critical research to pioneer adaptive treatment protocols and complete assessments of those treatments.

“Rapid ‘Ohia Death is a biosecurity issue that warrants urgent action. It threatens to leave Hawai‘i’s forests, ecosystems, watersheds and commerce in a vulnerable state. Agencies must work together to generate the science needed to support decisive decisions,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kristen J. Sarri. “Our funding will enable this to happen. An Early Detection and Rapid Response Team will identify and rapidly respond to diseased trees while pioneering effective treatment options that will preserve the cultural significance of the ‘ohia for Native Hawaiians and enable the species to continue to provide countless ecological benefits to the State for generations to come. What we learn from this interagency approach will be applicable to addressing other invasive species of priority concern, in Hawai’i and across the United States.”

“This is an ecological emergency, and it requires everyone working together to save Hawai‘i Island’s native forests. I’m pleased to see our federal partners step up to help. The additional funding will make a big difference, and it will give us the tools to understand the disease, develop better management responses, and protect our ‘ohia,” said U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI).

At the invitation of Senator Schatz, Sarri is attending a summit today with scientific experts, leaders from the conservation community and government leaders to better understand the current status of ROD management and science, discuss developments, and identify the most pressing opportunities to make progress.

The fungal disease is attacking and killing the ‘ohia lehua, a tree species sacred to Native Hawaiians that covers nearly one million acres in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is a keystone species for 60% of Hawai‘i’s forests and is integral to keeping the State’s delicate ecosystem in balance. The fungus causing ROD, first identified in 2014, already claimed 38,000 acres of trees on Hawai‘i Island where nearly two-thirds of the tree species lives. Scientists and resource managers worry that ROD will continue to ravage Hawai‘i Island’s forests and spread to other islands. This could potentially decimate habitat for many rare, threatened and endangered species, as well as jeopardize water resources and native cultural practices unless immediate interventions are implemented, including strengthening early detection and rapid response actions.

The disease was first confirmed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the University of Hawai‘i (UH). The State of Hawai‘i responded quickly by implementing an emergency ban on the movement of ‘ohia plant parts and soil interisland and intrastate, and requesting further assistance. Immediately, numerous agencies and organizations at the local, state and federal levels, including USFS, ARS, UH and Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formed a working group to improve detection, understand the spread and develop mitigation measures for ROD.

This multi-organizational effort facilitated sharing information, coordinated research and resource management and spurred public education and outreach efforts. As a result of these efforts, scientists were able to identify a fungus as the cause of the ‘ohia tree’s mortality, as well as develop methods to detect the fungal agent, and are tracking the spread of the disease. Hawai‘i mapped the location of diseased trees and instituted biosecurity measures to contain the spread of ROD, as well as kicked off a major public education effort to better inform landowners, resource managers and the general public about the disease.

The Federal government is committed to improving its ability to prevent invasive species from impacting national assets. The President’s Priority Agenda on enhancing climate resilience called for a national framework for the early detection of and response to invasive species. In response, an interdepartmental report, Safeguarding America’s Lands and Waters from Invasive Species: A National Framework for Early Detection and Rapid Response was released last February. The recommendations in that report have since been taken up as priority actions in the recently adopted 2016-2018 National Invasive Species Council (NISC) Management Plan. Implementation of the Management Plan is already in progress. Assessments are being conducted of the Federal authorities, programmatic structures and technical capacities needed to support a national program for the early detection of and rapid response to invasive species. NISC anticipates releasing the findings in early 2017.

Department of Agriculture Considering Rule Changes Regarding Quarantine Restrictions on Ohia and Soil

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture is currently considering proposed changes to the Administrative Rules regarding Chapter 4-72, Hawaii Administrative Rules, by adding a new section: §4-72-13 Quarantine restrictions on ohia and soil from rapid ohia death infested areas.

To view the proposed rule changes, click here.

ohia death

Public hearings regarding this rule change will be scheduled in the near future.

For information on this rule change, contact the Plant Quarantine Branch at (808) 832-0566.

Soldiers In The Battle Against Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death; Passion for Hawaii Forests Prompts Participation

Dozens of scientists, foresters, surveyors, researchers, and educators are actively involved in the fight to try and stop the spread of Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death. The fungal disease has decimated tens of thousands of acres of native ‘ōhi‘a on the Big Island. A virtual army of specialists from a wide array of federal, state, county, and non-profit organizations are engaged in the fight to find a treatment and simultaneously to stop it in its tracks. That’s where education and outreach come in.

ohia death

Anya Tagawa and Jeff Bagshaw of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife’s (DOFAW)    Natural Area Reserve (NAR) program are two of the soldiers on the frontline of spreading awareness about Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death.  They’ve each created signs that hunters, hikers,     mountain bikers and other people recreating on state public lands will soon see.  DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said,  “It is critical that every person who goes into the woods or forest anywhere in Hawaii, takes steps to prevent this disease from spreading. Anya and Jeff’s work along with a team of other outreach experts, is vitally important in getting kama‘āina and visitors alike to be certain they don’t inadvertently track the fungus from place to place.”

Their individual signs are different in appearance, but contain the same basic message. Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death kills one of the most important native trees quickly and in wide swaths.  Failing to follow the simple recommendations outlined on both signs could make you responsible for spreading this disease inter-island and intra-island.

Tagawa’s passion is borne of a life spent in the forest. She comments, “My life has always been intertwined with ‘ōhi‘a, with our native forests. I grew up hiking, exploring, and being captivated by our forests. I continue to learn about their unparalleled uniqueness and feel an intimate    connection with these special places. Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death threatens this way of life. It is imperative that we do all what we can to ensure ‘ōhi‘a is present for our future generations to experience, engage, and form a relationship with. It is critical for the continued persistence of the countless unique plants and animals that rely on ‘ōhi’a.”

Bagshaw is the outreach coordinator at the Ahihi-Kina‘u NAR on Maui’s south shore. The nearest wild ‘ōhi’a is dozens of miles away yet he designed the sign for the Na Ala Hele Trails Access system, because he, like his colleagues, is deeply concerned about the fate of Hawai‘i’s ‘ōhi’a forests.

He said, “We hope hikers and all forest users will start to be conscious  wherever they go, even if there’s ‘ōhi’a there or not. We’d like them to realize, that they could be taking something into the forest that affects our native ecosystems. ‘Ōhi’a are the backbone of our native rainforest; they feed the honeycreepers, they protect the watershed.  I can’t imagine a Hawaiian rainforest without ‘ōhi’a.”

Recently, Bagshaw, his staff, and volunteers conducted awareness surveys with visitors to the Ahihi-Kina‘u NAR.  They’ve found very few people have any knowledge about ōhi’a or Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death.  They’re heartened though, by people’s willingness to adopt the preventative measures outlined on each of the trail signs.

Tagawa’s signs will eventually be at every DOFAW trailhead on the Big Island: more than 50 in all. On Maui, Bagshaw’s signs are being placed at all Na Ala Hele trailheads.

Soldiers in the Fight Against Rapid Ohia Death- Video News Release from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

Community Meeting on Rapid Ohia Death (ROD)

On Tuesday, May 10th at 7:00 pm, a community meeting will be held to discuss what can be done to stop the Rapid Ohia Death that has been happening on the Big Island of Hawaii.

ROD

Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death Prompts Interagency Attention and Battle

Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death has already killed hundreds of thousands of this native tree in Hawaii Island forests.  This disease is new to science and to Hawaii and thus has prompted state and federal agencies to combine efforts to try and find answers and potential treatments, as well as to inform and educate people about Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death.

ohia deathAt simultaneous news conferences on Oahu and Hawaii Island, managers and researchers will provide updates on Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death as well as on an awareness campaign associated with this disease.

  • What:  Honolulu and Hilo News Conferences
  • When:  Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015,  11 a.m.
  • Where: Honolulu-DLNR Chairperson’s Office, 1151 Punchbowl Street (Kalanimoku Building) and Hilo-Daniel K. Inouye U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, 64 Nowelo Street
  • Who: Suzanne Case, Chair, Dept. of Land & Natural Resources (Honolulu), Scott Enright, Chair, Dept. of Agriculture (Honolulu), Rob Hauff, Forest Health Coordinator, Acting Protection Forester, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (Honolulu), J.B. Friday, Extension Forester, UH Cooperative Extension Service (Hilo), Flint Hughes, Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry (Hilo), Lisa Keith, Research Plant Pathologist, USDA Agricultural Research Service (Hilo), Steven Bergfeld, Branch Manager, DLNR Division of Forestry & Wildlife (Hilo)