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Iselle paves way for albizia clearing

Updated: 
August 25, 2014 - 5:48am

Anyone who ever made the drive down Highway 132 from Pahoa to Lava Tree State Park is familiar with the massive, all-enveloping canopy that blocked out the sun, making one feel as though they were traveling through an enormous, living tunnel.

Well, hold on to those memories, because the real thing is no more.

For years, the enormous albizia trees on either side of the roadway were a concern to motorists, pedestrians and Hawaii Electric Light Co. When heavy winds whipped through the area, tree limbs would sometimes snap and fall, tearing down power lines or narrowly missing passing vehicles.

“We’ve wanted to see those trees cut down for years,” explained Flint Hughes, an ecologist with the Pacific Southwest Research Station Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry.

Because of the danger posed to nearby utility lines, a concentrated effort to take down all the trees was never undertaken. But when Tropical Storm Iselle did much of the dirty work for them earlier this month, “we thought, now’s the perfect time to do it, before the lines are put back up,” he said.

As the trees along the 1.5-mile stretch from Nanawale Boulevard to Lava Tree State Park mainly fall under the jurisdiction of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, work crews from that agency took on the task.

“At the request of Hawaii County, DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) Division of Forestry and Wildlife crews have been operating chain saws and heavy equipment to clear entire trees, large limbs, and other vegetation debris from roads in the Pahoa area,” according to a DOFAW news release.

Each day since Aug. 9, between 12 and 16 DOFAW workers “felled countless trees, mostly invasive, non-native albizia trees on main thoroughfares and side roads. Many of these roads were blocked, trapping people on their properties when the towering albizia trees crashed down during the tropical storm,” the release stated.

When the cutting stopped, the roadway was virtually unrecognizable.

As for how long the effect may last, Hughes was confident that with a little oversight, the forest there can remain virtually albizia-free.

“That area is going to be part of our short-term control measures,” he said. “Within the coming months, we’re going to make sure that trees that were not poisoned, that those stumps get poisoned (to avoid regrowth of the albizias). The other thing will be keeping an eye and a handle on seedling (survival). If those areas are left bare and the ground is receiving sunlight, the vegetation will recover quickly and cover up that bare ground, preventing albizia seeds from germinating, and we won’t have the proliferation of the next generation of albizia.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.