As you read this, we are in the Peruvian Amazon at the base of the Andes Mountains near Puerto Maldonado. We used this opportunity of a meeting of the International Palm Society to take a side trip to Cusco and the Inca ruins of Machu Pichu. Seeing this region again makes me realize just how important it is for us humans to protect existing forests and replant wherever possible.
I can’t be in Hawaii to plant now, but wanted to remind kamaaina and malihini alike to focus on forests. Every year we celebrate Arbor Day on the first Friday of November. Our Hawaii Department of Forestry and Wildlife supplies trees to the public for free or a nominal cost. To get the details, contact Jacob Witcraft at the Forestry Tree Nursery in Waimea at 887-6063.
Of course there are many trees available at local nurseries, but we also have a great plant sale this Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Old Kona Airport from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. According to Susan Ruskin of Quindembo Nursery, there will be more than 20 species of noninvasive clumping bamboos available. Don’t forget forests include more than big trees. There will also be orchids, bromeliads, tropical fruits, water plants and even succulents and cacti available. So use this opportunity to think green and plant at least one tree in remembrance of Hawaii’s Arbor Day this year. For details on the sale, contact Susan or Peter at Quindembo, 885-4968.
The first time I traveled down the Amazon River was in 1975. The International Palm Society had held a conference in Colombia. On a lark, I hopped on a mail plane to Leticia, Colombia. This small Amazonian village bordering Brazil and Peru, later became one of the main routes used by the South American drug cartels. At that time, however, it was nothing more than an outpost and trading spot for the local indigenous people. The Amazon rain forests seemed untouched by the outside world, with no roads anywhere.
In the years since then, I have been up and down the Amazon from the tributaries to the Atlantic several times. Now Voltaire Moise and I are upriver again on the east slope of the Andes. As we flew over the Amazon basin, we were shocked to see the amount of deforestation that has occurred over the last 35 years. Roads are cut into the virgin forest in many areas and, soon after, land clearing by burning occurs with cattle ranches following. This is one reason we are seeing beautiful forest hardwoods made available for flooring and other construction uses. It is hoped that reforestation will occur along with deforestation.
Some of the areas where indigenous people live are being protected but will it be enough to keep these “lungs of the planet” healthy? Here in the Peruvian Amazon there has been much less destruction than downriver. Eco tourism may be giving this region some protection.
Now let’s reflect on what is happening and can happen right here at home. For the last several years, there has been severe drought in the west, causing fires and deforestation. More than 350 square miles of forest went up in smoke near Yosemite this summer. On the other hand, areas like Colorado that experienced drought last year are having some of the worst floods in their history partly due to deforestation.
We all know that our planet is suffering from deforestation, but what can we do to reverse this trend as we move forward in this millennium? Parts of Mainland China, Africa, and India are examples of vast areas that were deforested over the centuries. However, more damage has been done in the last 50 years than in the last several centuries. Unfortunately, untold numbers of native species have been lost and climates altered. Now reforestation projects often require drought-hardy species like eucalyptus and neem, or very fast-growing types like bamboo.
Whatever trees we use, we need to do it soon. Much of the tropics, including Hawaii, could become desert if this deforestation and climate change continues. Imagine how our island might have appeared when the first Polynesians set foot on it. There were forests covering the Kohala mountains, Mauna Kea, Hualalai and much of Mauna Loa. Dryland forests extended to Kawaihae. Well, it is time to reverse the trend of deforestation. At least here, where we can have some control.
Some key advantages to planting forests have been to reduce wind velocity, erosion, preserve forest watersheds, native ecosystems, recreation and, of course, tie up some of the excess carbon in our atmosphere.
Forests and their effect on the local climate are nothing new, but as important as they are, they have not been put to use as much in Hawaii as they should be. The primary purpose of forests including windbreak plantings is to reduce wind velocities to a degree that will provide needed protection. Some secondary effects of reducing wind velocity are modification of temperature in the protected area as well as increased humidity and reduced evaporation in the protected area. This reduces dust problems and supplies shelter and food for wildlife. They also add beauty to the area.
In many ways, we in Hawaii are on the right track, but we must continue to make a difference. If each Hawaii Island resident plants one tree per month, that is a couple of million new trees in one year. We also need to change our agricultural and urban development practices to give more incentives for land managers and owners to keep and protect our forests. Presently, there are tax reduction incentives for those who dedicate their lands to forest. Marginal grazing lands are ideal for reforestation, but our laws and regulations need to reflect more support for ranchers and other landowners interested in planting and maintaining forests on their lands. If you are interested in dedicating lands to agriculture including forests, contact our county tax office and planning department for assistance.
It is very sad to see so much destruction of our world’s great forests, but we can demonstrate good forest stewardship here in Hawaii if we truly make that commitment. During tough economic times like these, it is difficult to think far into the future, but we must remember that what we waste and misuse now, steals from our children and grandchildren.