Stopping rapid ohia death

  • Courtesy state Department of Land and Natural Resources

    This is one of the signs that the multi-agency partnership is putting up at trailheads throughout Kauai, providing information on Rapid Ohia Death.

  • Courtesy state Department of Land and Natural Resources

    Field agents document findings as they walk through Kauai forests, looking for signs of rapid ohia death.

LIHUE — In a University of Hawaii laboratory, scientists are researching the newly identified fungus that’s causing rapid ohia death (ROD) in the endemic trees on Kauai and Hawaii Island.

In Kauai and Hawaii Island forests, field agents are doing ground sampling and aerial surveys to identify diseased trees.

In board rooms, state agencies are developing new management practices based on those scientific and field discoveries.

And in Hawaii libraries and community centers, people are coming together to learn about new scientific discoveries and ways to stop the spread.

It’s a multi-agency, multi-pronged effort to save the ohia, a tree integral to Hawaiian culture, ecology and economy.

It’s cohesive teamwork between government, science and the public to save the native trees — trees that store water are the first to spring up after lava flows, and that provide food for nectar-sipping endangered birds.

Researchers don’t fully understand how the trees are infected, but are learning the fungus can enter through wounds in the tree. The spread is aided by beetles that burrow into infected trees. Wind and human interaction can also pass along the disease.

Soon, there will be signage with that new info near places where ROD has been found and at other trailheads. Those signs, and boot-washing stations, will be placed at about two dozen places across the island.

“Having this information at our trailheads will definitely help hikers and hunters understand how the simple steps they take now can potentially stop the spread of ROD to additional areas,” said Kawika Smith, Kauai Na Ala Hele Trails and Access Program coordinator. “We’re all committed to doing everything possible to stop the spread of rapid ohia death.”

There are plans for 28 signs at Na Ala Hele trailheads, and those signs should start showing up within the next two weeks. Boot brush stations are being designed and will be rolled out as soon as they’re ready.

Right now, there is one boot-wash station at the Kuilau Ridge Trailhead that’s cleaned out every couple of weeks — soil samples are sent over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Station in Hilo to be tested for pathogens.

“Thus far, there have been no detections in this soil for C. lukuohia or C. huliohia (the two varieties of fungus that cause ROD),” said Kim Rogers, Kauai ROD outreach specialist.

ROD was discovered first on Hawaii Island in 2014. Since then, scientists have discovered there are two varieties of the fungus — one more virulent than the other — and both varieties have spread to Kauai.

Ceratocystis lukuohia, the more aggressive of the two diseases, was detected in three trees in December 2017 on state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) property behind Anahola Mountain. Infected trees have also been found on the Moloa‘a State Forest Reserve, on privately-owned land in Halele‘a moku, and near the Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve.

Since then, 11 more trees have tested positive for C. lukuohia and 15 have tested positive for the second type of pathogen-causing ROD, Ceratocystis huliohia. All these trees are on the same DHHL property behind Anahola Mountain.

DHHL is throwing its weight behind the movement, said Jobie Masagatani, Hawaiian Homes Commission chairman.

“We ask that all DHHL beneficiaries and the public be attentive to these warning signs and continue to malama ‘aina by following their guidelines,” Masagatani said.

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Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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