LIHU‘E — Researchers have found more diseased ‘ohi‘a trees on Kauai and in several of the other Main Hawaiian Islands since the COVID-19 pandemic curbed forest activity, and experts ask people to take care when reentering the forests as the state reopens.
In a Wednesday news release, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said one new detection of the fungus that causes Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death (ROD) has been found on the north shore of Kaua‘i.
More diseased trees have also been discovered in areas already known to contain the fungus in areas around the east and southeast of the island. The disease is caused by two fungal pathogens, one more aggressive than the other.
According to the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, hundreds of ‘ohi‘a have died from the fungus on Hawai‘i Island alone, and the most aggressive of the two pathogens has been discovered on Hawai‘i Island and on Kaua‘i.
Since the pandemic triggered closures of National Park access, more trees have tested positive for the disease on Hawai‘i Island and Kaua‘i, as well as a fifth detection of the less aggressive fungus on Oahu and on Maui.
No new detections have been made on Molokai or Lanai, according to DLNR.
And, with the reopening of interisland travel on June 16, land management officials say it’s more important than ever to remind people that they can play a role in spreading the disease that is devastating a culturally and ecologically important tree in Hawaii.
“(People) can accidentally spread diseases and weeds unless precautions are taken,” said DLNR chair Suzanne Case. “As COVID-19 very effectively demonstrates protecting our way of life and our natural resources in Hawai‘i requires everyone’s care and participation.”
With many natural areas re-opening and yesterday’s resumption of interisland travel, DLNR and its partners remind forest users to clean their boots, vehicles and equipment of any dirt and soil and spray with a 70% alcohol solution to ensure they are not transporting the fungus which causes ROD.
Since being first detected, Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death has killed hundreds of thousands of trees spread over more than 50,000 acres of forest. Over the past few months, field crews have continued sampling for ROD in ‘ohi‘a forests and the lab at the USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo continues processing high-priority samples.