Keeping Kauai’s ohia trees safe

LIHUE — Boot cleaning stations at trailheads, encouraging people to wash clothing and boots between hikes, and installing a washing station at the port for vehicles and equipment are just a few ideas for preventing the spread of Rapid Ohia Death to Kauai, according to Sheri Mann, Kauai Branch Chief for Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

“Kauai does have a newly formed Rapid Ohia Death Advisory Group that has met several times to discuss this very question,” Mann said. “Thus far, we are working closely with neighbor island ROD advisory groups to determine the best course of action.”

The fungal disease, which is killing ohia trees on the Big Island, is contained to that area according to DLNR officials, and it hasn’t spread to Kauai, but there’s the chance it could.

“Not everything is known yet, but it is believed that it spreads in many ways including below ground via roots, by insect (excrement) being blown in the wind, and getting on passersby — like animals and humans clothing— as well as saw dust if the tree is cut down,” Mann said.

Across the Big Island, the disease is killing trees at a devastating rate, according to a press release from Dan Dennison, spokesman for DLNR. The disease has destroyed tens of thousands of acres in the native forest.

It was first reported in the Puna District in 2010 and the latest arial surveys show that the fungus has impacted nearly 50,000 acres of the forest on the Big Island.

“These trees have been here for hundreds of years and to see them go down to a disease like this is really heartbreaking,” Steve Bergfeld of DLNR, said in a press release. “It is devastating to look at the forest and the damage Rapid Ohia Death is doing to our ecosystem and our watersheds.”

People on Kauai are drumming up ideas on how to keep the devastating disease from affecting the Garden Isle’s ohia trees, and those ideas stem from the ways other pests are kept at bay.

“All of these (ideas) are basic management practices to mitigate pest and pathogen spread anyway, so educating the public about these helps keep many other unwanted pests of Kauai,” Mann said.

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