(ABOVE IMAGE) Map shows the location of the Hawai‘i Conference Foundation conservation parcel along Saddle Road. Courtesy The Nature Conservancy.
- The Nature Conservancy has acquired a 922-acre conservation easement along the Saddle Road above Hilo. The site – which will be managed through a partnership between TNC, University of Hawai‘i-Hilo, area watershed partnerships and the parcel’s landowner, The Hawai‘i Conference Foundation – includes a 200-acre kīpuka with a disappearing stream and a diverse ancient forest.
The Nature Conservancy has acquired a 922-acre conservation easement along the Saddle Road above Hilo, a site that includes a 200-acre kīpuka with a disappearing stream and a diverse ancient forest.
The Conservancy is partnering with the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo, Hawai‘i Island watershed partnerships and the parcel’s landowner, The Hawai‘i Conference Foundation, to conserve, manage and interpret the site. It will continue to serve as an outdoor ecology laboratory for students at the University.
The kīpuka was acquired by Titus Coan through the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions during The Great Mahele in 1849. Fifty years later his widow granted title to the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, now the Hawaii Conference UCC and Hawaii Conference Foundation.
“It is an awesome piece of property, and we did what was necessary to make this possible because it is our church’s kuleana,” said Sherman S. Hee, executive director of the foundation.
The property has a remarkable native diversity of plants, birds and insects, along with a stream that pops up from underground, runs through the kīpuka, and then disappears underground again. Since it is so close to the road, it is not a perfectly pristine site—there are some weeds and feral pigs, and illegal dumping of things like tires and trash.
“It is in good enough shape that we can remove the invasives and make a quick, significant difference,” said Jody Kaulukukui, The Nature Conservancy’s director of land protection.
“It is low, rugged and mossy. It has a majestic stand of native loulu palms and other ancient forest trees. Our hope is that it will serve as one of the few easily accessible sites where school and community groups can reconnect with a Hawaiian forest,” Kaulukukui said.
The site, part of Hilo’s watershed, will continue to serve the University of Hawai`i-Hilo as an educational platform in conservation.
“This area is a great example of lowland wet forest. For many years, we have taken ecology and avian biology classes there to study the birds and native insect communities,” said Patrick Hart, University of Hawaiʻi-Hilo associate professor of biology.
The forested part of the parcel is referred to as a kīpuka in reference to the 400 to 700-year-old forest that was bypassed and left standing by the 1855 Mauna Loa lava flow. Kīpuka is the term for a natural area that has been surrounded by newer lava.
In addition to loulu palms, ʻohiʻa lehua and ʻōlapa trees, ʻieʻie vines,ʻākala bushes and numerous other native trees and shrubs, it is home to rare Clermontia parviflora, the curved flowers of which fit the beaks of native birds. Some of those birds in the kīpuka include ʻōmaʻo, ʻelepaio, ʻapapāne and ʻamakihi. ʻIo, the native hawk that is associated with Hawaiian royalty, often soars overhead.
Coan clearly appreciated the specialness of the area, referring in his book Life In Hawai‘i (1882) to the “winding, rocky gorge, the cascades, basins, caves and natural bridges of this wild and solitary stream … velvet masses, luxuriant creepers, hanging in festoons…”
The kīpuka will account for part of the 15,000 acres that The Nature Conservancy manages on Hawaiʻi Island through fee ownership or conservation easements. With its partners, the Conservancy protects some 200,000 acres across the state.
“What’s special about this parcel is that it’s such beautiful forest, so full of native species, and so accessible. We’re viewing this as a real opportunity to protect native forest in partnership with the landowner, the University, the watershed partnerships and the people of east Hawaiʻi,” said Suzanne Case, the Conservancy’s Hawaiʻi executive director. “It is a partnership that will leave a legacy for future generations.”The Nature Conservancy media release on Dec. 2, 2014