by Shayna Decker | May 9, 2023
(Hawaiian diacritical marks included to appreciate the full story.)
“Mom, when can we come back here?”
This was the first thing my 10-year-old son said just minutes after we completed a volunteer day with Mauna Kahālāwai Watershed Partnership in West Maui.
Our group of about 20 Hawaiian Electric employees and their family members along with staff from MKWP spent several hours during a recent Saturday in April getting dirt under our fingernails as we cleared invasive weeds and planted 150 native ‘a‘alii, i‘liahi and wiliwili trees.
“With these new trees in the ground today we have now planted 1,000 native trees in the area!” Chris Brosius, program manager for Mauna Kahālāwai Watershed Partnership (MKWP), announced to our volunteer group that afternoon.
Chris and his dedicated team shared with us how they have been working to establish an Olowalu “green belt” of native species one acre at a time through the seeding, propagating, planting, and monitoring of hardy and resilient species native to 14-acres of the mauna Kahālāwai area or the West Maui mountains.
In 2021, Hawaiian Electric boosted this effort with $31,000 donation to the non-profit organization Mālama Kahālāwai in partnership with MKWP in support of restoring the Olowalu stream corridor with native Hawaiian plants and trees.
MKWP is a voluntary alliance of landowners, land managers and agencies who work collaboratively to protect a watershed area spanning 47,319 acres in the West Maui mountains. Together, the groups fenced over 33,000 acres, removed 2,500 impacting feral ungulates, battled the worst invasive weeds, maintained and improved miles of fire breaks, and begun to actively plant and restore portions of the watershed since being established in 1998.
“Our native forests are under great stress from the impacts of invasive species, climate change, drought and fire,” Chris explained. “Improvements to this Olowalu stream corridor creates a healthier watershed, a more fire resilient community, and a thriving native ecosystem from mauka to makai.”
Before our group walked into the restoration site, we each used a brush to scrub the bottom of our shoes and sprayed them with an alcohol solution to ensure we did not bring any new invasive seeds or species into the site.
Now with our shoes cleaned, before we entered the area where we would be working, Mau, one of our youth volunteers, led the Hawaiian protocol with the oli (chant) He Mele No Kane, which is about water to nourish the native trees in the ground and the ones we were about to plant. Our CEO Shelee Kimura then followed with E Hō Mai, to focus our group’s energies to carry out the kuleana (responsibility) we undertook for the day.
After walking a short distance along Olowalu stream, we came to a clearing to remove invasive grasses and weeds around earlier planted native trees and prepped new holes for the incoming drought-resistant and hardy native trees.
Chris thoughtfully showed us how to carefully remove the tree seedlings from their dibbles by first gently squeezing the case to loosen any dirt and roots, a task my daughter especially enjoyed.
We then made sure to measure the depth of the hole with each plant as we placed it in its new home, filled it with soil and then poured fresh water collected in buckets from the stream over each plant.
“One day, you can visit and help again and see how tall your tree has grown!” another volunteer, a designer in our engineering team, said to her three children.
It was a rewarding experience to see a patch of earth covered in weeds cleared away and replaced with a newly planted native Hawaiian tree at the end of the day.
It is no wonder our employees — including our family members — who volunteered that day are already looking forward to participating in the continued restoration efforts of Mauna Kahālāwai.
Shayna Decker is a director of government and community relations at Hawaiian Electric.