Reforestation program aims to heal, sustain people and planet

by Sharon Higa | March 3, 2021

It’s been four years since Pauline Sato, executive director of Kapolei-based Malama Learning Center, first cast a vision for an ambitious program to regenerate native and edible forests and communities on the southern slopes of the Waianae mountain range in West Oahu.

Kurt, Pauline, and Lori with West Oahu backdrop, checking out Piliokahe Beach, a potential site. Photo by Travis Nishida.

At that time, my colleagues Lori Hoo and Kurt Tsue from Community Relations, and Travis Nishida and I (from Corporate Communications) accompanied Pauline on an eye-opening excursion to visit some of the potential sites for reforestation efforts.

From the mountain ridges of Palehua to the windswept shorelines of Nanakuli’s beaches, we were treated to breathtaking views as Pauline explained the purpose of Ola Na Kini, a program designed to heal the land, ocean, and multitude of life through engagement and education.

Checking out Piliokahe Beach, a potential site.

As a long-time partner with Malama Learning Center, Hawaiian Electric was immediately on board with Ola Na Kini and the enriching, hands-on learning approach to engage the public in conservation efforts through site visits, field experiences and community workdays.

In support of Ola Na Kini’s environmental stewardship purpose, a $50,000 grant was awarded to Malama Learning Center in 2017 as part of our “125 Acts of Aloha” celebrating Hawaiian Electric’s 125th anniversary.

Later that same year, volunteers from our Environmental Division, Power Supply, and Public Affairs supported the Ola Na Kini program by participating in a workday ground clearing and planting native trees at a designated plot near Camp Palehua.

The work required a stump puller for deep roots; an auger for digging holes; garden tools for raking; and heavily gloved hands to haul away the scratchy dry brush. After the ground was cleared and holes dug for the plants, each seedling was gently placed in the ground with soil tucked around it. A generous water soak followed. A black shade cloth with a cutout for the seedling was tacked down to protect the native plants from invasive weeds. With all the bending and squatting involved it felt like we planted 10,000 seedlings, but the real number was probably closer to 50.

Today, the seedlings have taken root and Hawaiian Electric’s plot of wiliwili and lonomea trees and aalii shrubs is continuing to flourish under the care of Malama Learning Center, which has expanded on the site. A water catchment system designed by Sean Moura, our senior environmental scientist and wildlife biologist, helps to keep the plants thriving.

On this 2021 World Wildlife Day themed “Forests and Livelihood: Sustaining People and Planet,” we applaud the Malama Learning Center and like-minded organizations that endeavor to ensure the long-term conservation of forests, its wildlife inhabitants, and the value of indigenous cultural practices that contribute significantly to the sustainability of these natural ecosystems.

To learn more about Malama Learning Center, donate to its mission, or to join a community workday, visit www.malamalearningcenter.org.

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

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