An iwi is seen within the Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve. (Manfred Kusch, courtesy of DOFAW/Special to West Hawaii Today)
A new 15-year management plan for Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve, described by state officials as one of the best remaining forest ecosystems in Hawaii, is ready to be implemented.
A final environmental assessment of the plan for the East Hawaii reserve was released Wednesday with a finding of no significant impact. The plan was prepared for the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife. The Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the new management plan as well as the finding of no significant impact Sept. 23.
Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve, which encompasses 18,706 acres in South Hilo and Puna, was established in 1981 to protect native wet forest the plan, last updated in 1989, said is an important water resource for both lower Puna and Hilo.
Fifteen species of federally designated plants can be found in or near the reserve. The reserve is also home to endangered forest birds such as the nene and io. The area may serve as a future release site of captive raised Hawaiian crow, or alala.
Proposed actions to protect and preserve the reserve’s unique natural, cultural and geological resources include fencing, feral ungulate removal, weed control, habitat restoration, outplanting rare plants, monitoring, public access, outreach and education, fire management, enhanced enforcement and continued collaboration with partners.
Feral pigs and other ungulates — sheep, goats and cattle — and nonnative, invasive weeds are the main threats to biodiversity and the watershed in the reserve, the document said. The plan calls for maintaining nine existing fenced units, building another 17 miles of fencing that would comprise four units, as well as the possibility of special public hunts, trapping and snaring to remove the feral animals from the fenced areas.
Fencing will be completed as funds become available; installing fencing is expected to cost roughly $100,000 per mile, or about $1.7 million total, according to the assessment. The fencing would protect an additional 5,000 acres bringing the total fenced-in area to 14,600 acres or 78 percent of the reserve.
Chemical, manual and biocontrol measures will be considered for removal of invasive plants, such as banana poka and strawberry guava, and species such as feral pigs. Removal of invasive species will occur first in the fenced areas.
The plan also outlines how the division will increase public access through trail improvements. New interpretive hiking opportunities will offer the public the chance to learn more about the reserve, its species and ecosystems and ongoing management activities.
To ensure public access does not negate the fencing and efforts to mitigate the spread of invasive species, the plan calls for installing pedestrian walkovers and gates. To reduce the chance of introducing invasive species, the plan calls for installing boot-cleaning stations and informative signs.