J.Kalani English

What could be more tied to economy than protecting our water supply?

The Maui News
January 25, 2009

Letters to the Editor


In Hawaiian, the word for water is wai. The word for wealth is waiwai.

I recommend that protecting and restoring the source of our fresh water be a top priority in our economic stimulus efforts in Hawaii. When it comes to infrastructure, one of the obviously very important issues on Maui is water supply.

But where does our water come from in the first place? The forest. The native Hawaiian forest is Ke Akua's infrastructure. Layers of canopy trees and uluwehi of understory trees and thick ferns and mosses on the forest floor create a giant sponge that holds the water and releases it slowly. The healthier the forest, the more and the more regularly the streams flow. And the forests actually create rain. "Hahai no ka ua i ka ulula'au." Rain always follows the forest.

But the East Maui watershed is under urgent threat. Feral goats, pigs and axis deer and invasive plants are eating away at the native forest day by day. The more damaged the forest, the less the streams flow.

Yet there are solutions: feral animal control fences combined with hunting, trapping, corralling and otherwise removing animals. When feral animals are restricted and removed, the native forest often comes back on its own. And native plants from nearby areas can be propagated to help the forest restore itself.

While many invasive plants can't be eradicated completely, with a concerted effort we can slow, then halt their progress into pristine areas and begin restoring the native forest. Much of the focus has been on miconia, and rightly so because it is so invasive and we still have a chance to actually eradicate it if we keep at it. But there are many other plants also threatening the forest that urgently need to be addressed, including clidemia, African tulip, kahili ginger, Australian tree fern, and strawberry guava.

The longer we wait to take action, the more established they become in new areas and the harder the problem becomes.

We cannot wait for an economic recovery to make protecting our forest a priority, and we certainly shouldn't use the recession as a reason to cut funds for these efforts. Our source of fresh water is our security, and it must be protected.

And the thing is, these tasks mean real jobs, putting people to work erecting fences and removing invasive plants. We need crews of people out working in and on behalf of the forest, helping to actively manage the ahupua'a. The people to be hired are the locals who know the land in many different areas of the island, not just East Maui, the area with which I am most familiar.

The Environmental Work Force initiated by Sen. J. Kalani English in response dengue fever outbreak in East Maui just after 9/11 is a good example to look to. It was uniquely successful at stopping the outbreak of the disease, and put people to work during a tourism downturn that hit Hana doubly hard because of the dengue fever.

Today we need an environmental work force on an even larger scale. And while there are many needs and opportunities to protect and restore our natural resources, protecting the forest and the source of fresh water for all of us is our best investment strategy and must be a top priority.

Scott Crawford is executive director of the Kipahulu Ohana, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultural and environmental education and restoration that maintains a 3-acre kalo farm in Haleakala National Park and conducts native forest protection projects in Kipahulu.

Original article URL: http://www.mauinews.com/page/content.detail/id/514095.html

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