WAIMEA, Hawai’i (KHON2) — In a move to protect essential fresh water resources, manage non-native feral pigs and promote native forest regeneration, The Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, in partnership with The Kohala Center received a $234,000 grant to carry out its ambitious four-year environmental protection initiative.

The Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawai’i conducted a 2019 study that demonstrated the impact that securing Kohala Mountain will have on sustaining this priority area for “cost-effective watershed management due to large recharge benefits.”

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“It has been estimated that ‘Eke could degrade to non-native forest in less than 50 years if concerted efforts aren’t made to protect the native cloud forest,” said Jake Merkel, Kohala watershed field supervisor at The Kohala Center.

According to the study, it is estimated that “378.7 billion gallons of water yield and 193.1 billion gallons of groundwater recharge could be saved from loss over 50 years with proactive stewardship of Kohala Mountain’s vulnerable native forests.”

Most of the soil erosion on ‘Eke, which is home to the headwaters of Keawewai and Luahine streams, is due to invasive species like non-native feral pigs but also due to human disturbances.

“Non-native animals and plants are the primary threats to the watersheds of Kohala Mountain, so we plan to focus on protecting ‘Eke by removing feral pigs and Himalayan ginger and doing what we can to keep them out, allowing the forest to heal and regenerate,” said Merkel.

As the preservation project moves forward, a perimeter fence will be erected to protect ‘Eke from hooved animals, in particular. Once constructed, non-native feral pigs and the invasive kāhili [Himalayan] ginger plant will be removed so as to allow the soil to regenerate.

Regional hunters were a part of the discussions on how to preserve Kohala Mountain. The Queen Emma Land Company and TKC will work with them to ensure the success of this project and to preserve their hunting habitats.

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In addition to these efforts, TKC is implementing Hoaʻāina Stewardship Days at ʻEke and in the Koaiʻa Corridor and Tree Sanctuary below ‘Eke for locals to teach them about the process and how they can be a part of the solutions to ensuring Hawaii’s resources are protected.

The ‘Eke is owned by the Queen Emma Land Company and the State of Hawaiʻi.