Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge

Fall 2023 Newsletter

President's Perch Fall 2023

J.B. Friday

Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge

In This Issue

President's Perch

Volunteers Needed

Walk for the Wild

Using Bioacoustics and Machine Learning to Monitor Endangered Birds

Volunteer Trip Report

O Pioneers!

Hawai'i Island Festival of Birds

These past few weeks have been very difficult here in Hawai‘i. Everyone in the state is mourning the lives lost in Lahaina and the destruction of a beloved community. We have seen many wildfires over the years, some of them much larger than the fire in Lahaina, but never one that caused so much devastation.

Our landscapes have become more fire-prone since the collapse of plantation agriculture and the decline of ranching. Dry grasses and weeds grow up where once we had irrigated fields or managed pastures. What ignited the fire is almost beside the point: if you have tens of thousands of acres of flammable vegetation, you are bound to get wildfires, if not from the electrical lines then from a careless camper, or someone emptying out a hibachi, or someone parking a truck on a spot of dry grass.

We have to learn the lesson over and over again: once we permanently alter the land, we are responsible for it. If we walk away from the land things go downhill. Hakalau also faces the risk of wildfires. Many of you have seen the Refuge on a dry summer when the lush grasses turn brown. But every year, as more trees are planted on the Refuge, we have less grass and more forest. Every year the patches of flammable weeds grow smaller and less connected as the forest closes in. Reforestation is one way to reduce the risk of wildfires. Grazing is another, and we may have come to the point where we have to pay ranchers to pasture livestock on the land just to keep the grass down. Greenbelts could protect vulnerable communities. We have golf courses aplenty on these islands; what if we put some of that wealth to creating irrigated green belts around leeward communities? I don’t know all the answers, and they will likely be different for each community. But we can’t go on ignoring the land as we have been doing. 

Volunteers Needed

Want to get involved with Friends of Hakalau Forest? We are currently looking to fill the following volunteer positions:

Bookkeeper: The Friends of Hakalau need someone to assist the Treasurer with tracking income and expenditures, monthly financial reports for the Board of Directors, and filing of state and federal forms as needed. We currently use Excel and need help to move to an accounting software program. Estimated volunteer time is about 4-6 hours a month.

T-shirt Fulfillment: The steps of this activity involve: print orders from our e-mail store; pick up t-shirt(s) from storage; pack in box or envelope; purchase and print postage label; and arrange pick up or take to post office. Estimated volunteer time is about 4-6 hours a month.

For more information call Cathy at 808-961-6142. 

Walk for the Wild!


Using Bioacoustics and Machine Learning to

Monitor Endangered Birds

Amanda K. Navine

As land and wildlife managers plan conservation strategies to protect the endangered birds of Hakalau Forest, they need accurate assessments of where the birds are on the landscape and how their population sizes may be changing. In order for conservation to be successful, it is essential to know where birds are located, how their ranges may be expanding or contracting, and how they are responding to new threats and conservation actions. The annual bird surveys conducted within the refuge have been, and continue to be, critical for establishing a historical baseline for population trends over time. However, these surveys cannot tell us how birds may be utilizing different areas of the forest during the various seasons, how breeding seasonality may be affected by climate change, or detect rapid changes in population sizes. 

Members of the Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo have been developing acoustic monitoring techniques that use the sounds of the forest to continuously track bird populations across the landscape throughout the year. Song recorders have been deployed at Hakalau for nearly a decade and, thanks to machine learning, all the recordings that have been collected can now be rapidly analyzed to provide a detailed view of how birds are using the forest. The forest recordings are run through an automated birdsong detection algorithm which is trained to identify every bird species represented within the forest community. This algorithm then reports which birds are singing and how often in each recording. With this information, changes in detections can be compared over time to determine relative population sizes of the different bird species, as well as which part of the forest they are utilizing, when, and how often. By training the algorithm to detect the calls of fledgling birds, which have distinct vocal characteristics, it will even be possible to monitor breeding success over time. 

Spectrogram of an ʻAkiapōlāʻau song

Understanding these various aspects of bird ecology can help to direct conservation efforts, such as reforestation, to areas that are most impactful to population recovery. It can also indicate if birds are shifting their breeding windows to track changes in climate, which can reveal the ideal time for conducting certain activities, such as nest surveys. Using bioacoustics and machine learning, the LOHE Lab hopes to revolutionize endangered species monitoring at Hakalau and provide the best possible foundation of knowledge for making conservation decisions.

Refuge Update

Visitor Services Manager, FWS

We advertised our Biological Science Technician position (greenhouse position) that closed on July 28th. It is still being reviewed by HR staffing and we suspect this will take a few more weeks before we get our list of candidates. Assistant Fire Management Officer (FMO) Eric Johnson and Engine Captain (detailee) Malu Palakiko have been deployed on fires for the past several months, including the Maui fire. Malu’s detail ended on September 6 and he returned to his home station at Desert NWR in Nevada. Mahalo Malu! The refuge field operations team have also been clearing fuel breaks around refuge facilities in response to increasing drought conditions across the island.  

Wildlife Biologist Eldridge Naboa conducted seabird surveys at the Kona Forest Unit with support from the National Park Service (NPS) and the refuge field crew. An NPS Inventory & Monitoring crew recently documented an endangered plant species, Spermolepis hawaiiensis, in the Kona Forest unit. Over 20 nēnē and one active nēnē nest were counted during the statewide nēnē survey during the month of August at Hakalau. The latest Forest Solutions weed contract is underway to control holly, gorse, and mowing fuel breaks. A team from BIISC also completed several months of weed control at Hakalau removing Photinia davidiana and invasive holly.

The pest control team continues to work hard maintaining fences, removing feral ungulates, and are currently conducting bi-annual weed and ungulate surveys.

Over the last several months we've had volunteer groups who assisted in planting over 600 māmane and koa. The various groups have also worked on small tasks contributing to clearing out around the Pua Akala Cabin. On September 9-10 we’re excited to welcome another group of volunteers from FoHF to continue our planting efforts!

Looking forward to October the refuge is going to be a busy place as it marks our return to education visits with two groups scheduled visit us. We also have two volunteer groups scheduled for October and of course the Walk for the Wild event during National Wildlife Refuge Week. 

Our contract for the Greenhouse renovation was re-solicited in early September due to the small number of contractors and high bids that came in after the first solicitation. Additional funds have also been secured to cover the renovation and maintenance staff are also assisting with prep work. We are hopeful to have the “Laulima” greenhouse up and running again early next year!

Volunteer Trip on August 16, 2023

Patty Kupchak

High on one of the last grass swept plains of Pua Akala a baker’s dozen or so intrepid Friends of Hakalau Forest NWR volunteers, aged from their first into their ninth decade upon this planet, planted 300+ māmane and koa seedlings on August 16, 2023.

This third of four 2023 volunteer projects, orchestrated by the Refuge’s Volunteer Coordinator Leah Messer, helps to extend the forested corridors closer to the top of the Refuge. Ninety-three percent of the hundreds of thousands of trees planted at Hakalau Forest, during the past four decades, have been planted by volunteers like these. Mahalo nui loa to all of you.

O Pioneers!

Marcia Stone

Something has to be first. When hot lava becomes cool lava, Nature, ever on the move, seeks to fill the emptiness. But what goes first? That depends on what is nearby and what the wind blows in. In an area near a montane forest, it will be spiders and crickets, lichen and moss and other hardy, self-sufficient organisms that bring their own resources with them and use the scant ones available. These organisms are low-lying and unobtrusive. They are there before most of us even notice their presence.

'Ōhi'a on a rock with lichen and moss

The ones we do notice and the ones we usually think of as pioneer plants are the bedrock of our upland forests: ‘ohi’a; ‘ama’u; ‘ohelo; pukiawe, ‘a’ali’i. Did I leave out some of your favorites? There are more, of course, and each one is an important contributor to a healthy, diverse forest of the future. They are pioneers because they can derive moisture and nutrients where others cannot. Some of these plants, such as ‘ohi’a, go on to be a dominant part of the new landscape, while others get out-shaded and live on as remnants, waiting for the call-up when a new lava flow appears.

This whole process of forming a forest community literally from bare rock is called primary succession. Primary and succession are almost contradictory terms. How can there be a succession if you are first? But it’s an illusion. Nature is a magician that just seems to conjure something out of nothing. 

Hawai'i Island Festival of Birds

October 21, 2023 9am-6pm

Grand Naniloa Hotel, Hilo

Friends of Hakalau Forest is a proud sponsor of the Hawai'i Island Festival of Birds, so be sure to visit our booth if you are in attendance!

Register for the Festival!

Hakalau Forest T-Shirts

Back by popular demand! The Friends of Hakalau Forest T-Shirts are now available using the link below. We have men's, women's, and children's sizes in long and short-sleeved styles.

Purchase Your T-Shirts Here!
The Friends of Hakalau is a membership organization. Membership dues and donations to the Friends are our only source of funds allowing us to cover our expenses (for example this newsletter) and to make grants.
Every Wednesday on HPR listen to Manu Minute created by Patrick Hart, member of the Friends since its inception and a board member for multiple terms. Click the button to hear the segments that have already been aired.

Friends of Hakalau Forest, National Wildlife Refuge is a 501 (C)(3) organization and is recognized as a tax exempt non-profit organization by the Federal government and the State of Hawaii. We appreciate and thank you for your membership and your donations.




   J.B. Friday

Vice President

   Debbie Anderson


   Pete Stine


   Marcia Stone

Members at large

Ken Kupchak

Jane Mayo

Susan Miyasaka

Bret Mossman

Mike Scott  

Jaime Tanino

Phil Tinguely

Ross Wilson

Peter Young

Chris Yuen


Assistant Treasurer

Cathy Lowder

Volunteer Membership Database Managers

Jane Mayo

Suzy Lauer

Newsletter Editor

Alyssa MacDonald

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