Growing a legacy

Summit + Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative

Place Waipi‘o Valley
Text Jennifer Sudick

The Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI) is a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding Hawai‘i’s natural rainforest environments and to restoring the diversity and integrity of the native ecosystem. HLRI is an organization run by people with lifetimes of experience in all of the areas necessary to the success of this project. It is a new way of sustainable reforestation that is found nowhere else on Earth.

“We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” − Chief Seattle

On the slopes of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai‘i, in a burgeoning endemic Hawaiian forest, “Uncle Earl” Kamakaonaona Regidor walks in the footsteps of those who have come before him. With the summit at his back, Uncle Earl looks down over Waipi‘o Valley, the Pacific Ocean and the neighboring island of Maui to the northwest.

“This place has seen so much change; but it’s coming back, returning to its roots,” he says. “This land was once a thriving koa forest, and the personal property of King Kamehameha the Great. By reforesting this place, we are witnessing the rebirth of an important part of our history.”

Uncle Earl heads the Ka‘ūpūlehu Cultural Center at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Kona-Kohala coast. Up mauka from the resort, he is also the cultural advisor for the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI), a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding Hawai‘i’s natural rainforest environments and to restoring the diversity and integrity of the native ecosystem.

HLRI began planting endemic trees here in 2010 and, through its many partnerships, has taken more than 1,000 acres of denuded pastureland and returned it to the people of Hawai‘i as pristine forest. This special place is not only home to over 300,000 rare plants and trees, such as koa and Hawaiian sandalwood, but also provides critical habitat for its newest residents, the Hawaiian hawk (‘io) and the Hawaiian owl (pueo). Both animals are endangered.

John De Mello

Besides housing some of Hawai‘i’s most treasured tree, plant and bird species, this forest is among the most technologically advanced in the world. From birth, every tree is electronically chipped, mapped and monitored through a proprietary radio-frequency identification geo-tagging system that logs ongoing growth, maintenance, genealogy, carbon sequestration and other data.

“Through state-of-the-art technologies and proprietary forest management practices, we can promote long-term forest health, ecosystem diversity and unparalleled data collection for research and development, all while creating permanent green jobs for Hawai‘i families,” says Jeff Dunster, executive director of the organization. “Most importantly, we can do this in a way that honors the Hawaiian culture.”

The impact of each tree and the benefits to science and the environment are immense. Over a 50-year lifetime, the organization estimates that a single tree can generate $31,250 worth of oxygen, provide $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycle $37,500 worth of water, and prevent $31,250 worth of soil erosion. Imagine what an entire forest will be able to do.

Rob Shallenberger

Each tree also has a story to tell. Through the Legacy Tree program, a tax-deductible $60 donation will sponsor the planting of a koa Legacy Tree. Legacy Trees are often used to honor an individual, commemorate an event, or memorialize a loved one.

In addition, Hawaiian Legacy Tours offers an award-winning and highly rated experience that allows guests to hand select and plant their own trees. Guests can also choose to offset the carbon footprint of their tour experience through the new Legacy Carbon program. Certified by the prestigious Gold Standard Foundation in Switzerland, it is the first program in the world to produce certified carbon credits for the reforestation of koa trees and is the only certified carbon project of any kind in Hawai‘i.

“Each person who has sponsored a tree here is responsible for this forest’s success,” Dunster says. “And each planting puts us closer to our goal of reestablishing 1.3 million trees and a rebirth of this critical native habitat in Hawai‘i.”

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Summit is Hawaii's magazine of ideas and style for the global citizen. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

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