Protecting Oahu’s native forests

Hawaiian Electric
3 min readSep 21, 2022


by Sharon Higa | Sept. 21, 2022

It’s been over three years since rapid ohia death, a non-native fungal disease with no known cure, was first spotted on Oahu in a remote area. Because native ohia trees are critical for the health of the watershed and its inhabitants, protecting this precious natural and cultural resource is everyone’s kuleana — responsibility.

My colleague Sean Moura, Hawaiian Electric wildlife biologist, saw an opportunity to merge a volunteer stewardship project with the company’s protected species environmental program. Working with an existing blueprint from the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Sean came up with novel additions to the basic boot brush design.

Recreational hikers entering and exiting a trailhead will typically use a basic boot brush (like the one shown at left) to decontaminate the bottom of their shoes and help prevent the spread of invasive species and spores.

Sean presented a prototype to James A. Harmon with DLNR’s Division of Forestry & Wildlife while securing approvals for its fabrication by Hawaiian Electric’s Electrical & Welding Services team. Sean suggested that the new design could co-exist alongside DLNR’s boot brushes at trailheads which might intersect with utility infrastructure, and that are known for ohia trees and native forestry.

“Boot brush stations are not a new idea, however, the expanded design with a modified handlebar, an integrated seating bench, and a pump sprayer enclosure is meant to encourage and make it easy for social hikers to use,” said Sean.

Left: Moura’s boot brush station design under construction by James Lindsey and Floro Tabian at Hawaiian Electric’s Ward Base Yard Welding Shop. Right: Sean, aided by DLNR’s James Harmon, unloads the boot brush stations at the agency’s Makiki Base Yard. A paint coat and signage were added by DLNR staff.

According to Ambyr Mokiao-Lee, statewide Rapid Ohia Death outreach coordinator, “These stations are the first of its kind for Oahu and since these “updated” versions come with a bench and an external cage for the storage of a dispersant, it is really the first of its kind for the whole state.”

This summer, hikers that visited Aiea Loop, Manoa Cliff, Moanalua/Kamamanui Valley, Poamoho, Waimano and Wiliwilinui trailheads got their first look at these new boot brush stations. At first glance, the striking ensemble might look like a mini green treadmill. Or, for beginner hikers like me, it might be a place to sit on the bench and rest your weary legs after walking from the car to the trailhead. In any case, please … go ahead, clean your shoes with the brushes and sanitize the bottoms with a spray of dispersant before and after hiking.

Left: Sean Moura, Hawaiian Electric wildlife biologist. Right: A hiker uses the boot brush station before heading on the trail.

“With many natural areas seeing a record number of visitors, and with the resumption of travel, DLNR and its partners remind all forest users to clean their shoes, gear, and vehicles of any weed seeds and soil, and spray with a 70% alcohol solution before and after visiting the forest,” said James. The agency will be responsible for refilling the dispersant supply in the pump sprayer of the new boot brush stations.

Sean and fellow Environmental Division colleagues will visit the trailheads quarterly for the next five years and replace any boot brushes that are worn out. “Worn out brushes are a good sign as they mean that people are using it and that’s really what we want to encourage the public to do.”

For more ways to help prevent the spread of ROD, visit

Sharon Higa is a senior communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.



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