Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
Winter 2020 Newsletter
Presidents' Perch Winter 2020

J.B. Friday

President, Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
In This Issue



Events, Christmas Shopping, Mahalo to Donors

Research News

Stories from the early history of the Refuge

Once upon a time there was a village on the shore of a lake. One day the villagers noticed a new weed floating on the lake. Day by day it increased, seeming to double in size every day. Finally, the weed covered the lake and the villagers could no longer fish. When they contacted the authorities, they were asked why they didn’t do anything sooner. When should we have told you, they asked. Well, the authorities replied, maybe when the weed covered half the lake. That would have been yesterday, the villagers replied sadly.

The moral of the story is that when problems grow exponentially, waiting until the problem is obvious may be too late. At Hakalau, weeds and feral animals like pigs continue to invade the Refuge and if not immediately dealt with will increase in numbers exponentially. Most of the time, the Refuge staff manages to control problem invasives as soon as they appear. There are times, though, when through gaps in funding or just having too few staff and too many problems, that invasives get out of hand. When this happens the progress that has been made in restoring the Refuge lands can be set back significantly. Six years ago, the Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge established an Endowment to supplement the Refuge funding sources in case of emergency, in particular in cases of breaches in the defenses of the refuge that allow pigs and weeds to get established. The goal of the Friends is to have enough of a reserve to be able to step in and protect the refuge and the progress that has been made in times where the regular Refuge processes are not enough or are not possible in a timely manner.

This year has been a banner year for the Endowment. In September we started with a challenge donation of $30,000 for which we aimed to raise another $30,000 match. Our donors quickly contributed that amount, and on top of they raised another $45,000 to be matched by December 31st. To date we have collected a total of $134,000 in donations and we are short just $16,000 to meet our goal of $150,000 for the campaign. Please consider contributing to our Endowment fund to get us over the top by the end of the year. Go to and click on the orange “Donate” button to contribute to the Endowment. (Note that our Endowment is handled by the Hawaii Community Foundation.) Mahalo – the birds and rare plants appreciate it! 
Refuge Update – Summer 2020
Big Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex

All the rain over the last couple weeks has left the road up to the refuge in rough shape however work, projects, and contracts have been moving forward at a good pace. Forest Solutions recently completed its 2020 weed control contract with the Refuge. They treated 1000+ acres of gorse and Florida blackberry as well as 100+ acres of English holly. BIISC (Big Island Invasive Species Committee) mapped 275 acres of Photinia and treated 6,000+ plants. Additionally, they treated English holly on 200 acres in the Middle and South Shipman management units.

Results are in from the 2020 feral ungulate survey and unfortunately the numbers are up from last year. A variety of factors are likely contributing to the increase in feral pigs. One major factor is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, staff now spend fewer hours on the refuge. Previously they would overnight on the refuge Monday – Thursday every week however the pandemic has reduced the amount of staff who are allowed to stay in the facility. This means our staff spend more time out of their workday commuting the 2 hours (one way) up and down the mountain. We are also dealing with a limited number of ATVs/UTVs due to breakdowns which severely limits our access to remote areas of the refuge for fence inspection and maintenance. New ATVs and UTVs are on order and should be arriving soon which will go a long way towards alleviating this issue. 
The Refuge’s facility improvement contracts are well underway, and the contractors are making significant progress.

Bunkhouse Upgrades
·       Porch replacement around the entire facility using weather resistant materials
·       Renovation of kitchen space to allow for additional/upgraded appliances
·       New flooring throughout the facility
·       Addition of a bathroom & renovation of one of the existing bathrooms
·       Siding replaced/matched with other facilities for a uniform appearance that minimizes the facility’s visual contrast with the existing landscape

Volunteer Cabin Upgrades
·       Porch upgrade/replacement, the multiple existing porches will be connected, and all will be on the same level eliminating the need for various tiers of steps

Photovoltaic (PV) Building Upgrades
·       Siding replaced/matched with other facilities for a uniform appearance that minimizes the visual contrast with the existing landscape
·       The small porch is being replaced to improve access for maintenance & equipment

In addition to the facility contracts both Tom and Bruce are working on various upgrades to the BRD Cabin. For those who aren’t familiar BRD stands for Biological Resources Division and the BRD cabin is one of the first buildings that US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) built to house researchers. Though the Biological Resources Division now falls under the US Geological Survey (USGS), USFWS retained ownership of the facility but it’s still called the BRD Cabin.

We have recently run into some power issues as one of our batteries in the Photovoltaic (PV) system died. We have been able to mitigate any major contract/work delays through the use of backup generators in the near-term and are working to find a suitable upgrade/replacement to the older PV system but this takes time as we move through the contracting process. The upshot is that once the PV system has been repaired/upgraded it will be running on newer generation batteries which will increase its lifespan and overall operational effectiveness.

That’s all for now. Keep your guard up and stay safe everyone!
Save the date: January 23rd - annual meeting and election of new board members. More information will be emailed to you in early January.
Every Wednesday on HPR listen to Manu Minute created by Patrick Hart, Friends Board Secretary. Click the button to hear the segments that have already been aired.
Order new t-shirts for Christmas giving by visiting our web store. Friends of Hakalau Forest logo t-shirts have been restocked and orders can be mailed to you or the recipient.
Give a gift membership. Gift memberships keep of giving all year long, helping to support the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.
2020 Friends of Hakalau Donors  

$1000 and above:
Laura Jane Musser Fund, Shingle Family Fund

Corporate  $250-$999
Debbie & Bruce Anderson, Deborah Brown, Mary Collar, Kate Hagenbuch Martel Fund, Ray Lara, David Littlejohn, March Conservation Fund, Berl & Karen Nuubaum, Don & Kathy Romero

Sponsor      $100-249
Denise Antolini, Bob & Bettina Arrigoni, Sylvia & Daniel Belcher, Pam Burns, Valerie Corcoran, George Crabb, Lorri Ellison, Jane & Paul Field, Elizabeth Flint, Vida Hackell, Rick Hazlett, Robert Hollyer, Lea Hong, Alan Hudson & Megan Porter, Seiko Imoto, Pauline Kawamata, Steve Kendall, Dianne Kiel-Jones, Andrew Kikuta, Michel Kolasa & Kim Smith, David Lassner, Alice Lindahl & Jim Haefner, Creighton Litton, John & Stephanie Marrak, Dick May, Paul McMurray, Shirley Mendoza, Stephen Mosher, Ron & Emily Needham, Geoff Nelson, Lynne Park, Eben & Kristina Paxton, Susan Pope, Steve & Paula Reynolds, Daniel Roby, Les & Hybe Sakamoto, Ellen & Max Schwenne, Alice Shingle, Tom Snetsinger, Lisa Spain, Mary Spears, Pat Tummons. Joseph Vierra, Ed and Ruria Wetherell, Gaylord and Carol Wilcox, Lynette Williams.
These donations support our office operations (website, financial and newsletter software, insurance etc). They also support Teaching Change by providing money for miscellaneous items not covered by grants. In addition the donations provide support for the Refuge for items not covered by the FWS (volunteer t-shirts, volunteer recognition, small projects and equipment).
Donors to the Endowment Fund will be recognized at the end of the year when the matching campaign ends. There are about 2 weeks left in 2020 to help us match the grants.
Teya Penniman
American Bird Conservancy
Birds, Not Mosquitoes: Preventing Extinctions
Sheila Conant and Rob Shallenberger belong to a rarefied group – people who have seen Hawaiian forest bird species in the wild that no longer exist. Their sightings have included honeycreepers, such as the ʻōʻō, ʻōʻū, and poʻouli, and the kāmaʻo thrush, among others. Habitat loss, introduced predators, and mosquito-borne diseases have pushed vulnerable species into the smaller and more remote areas that still have suitable habitat. Few people have access to those areas and fewer still would know where to look or how to recognize the shapes and sounds of the last individuals.
Unfortunately, many of Hawaiʻi’s remaining endemic forest birds are in trouble and the number of extinctions will continue to grow without urgent action. For nine species (ʻalalā, kiwikiu, ‘akikiki, puaoihi, ‘akeke‘e, palila, ‘akiapōlā‘au, ‘ākohekohe, and the O‘ahu ‘elepaio), fewer than 2,000 birds remain in the wild and some are projected to disappear within the decade. One of these, the ʻakiapōlāʻau, occurs in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Previous articles in this newsletter have described the efforts of a multi-agency partnership called “Birds, Not Mosquitoes.” The group is working to suppress the mosquitoes that transmit avian malaria by using a naturally-occurring bacterium (Wolbachia) as an insect birth control. Participants include some of our state’s top entomologists, mathematical modelers, ornithologists, invasive species experts, outreach and education specialists, and cultural practitioners. I joined the project last year to help with project coordination.
Everyone involved appreciates the urgency and shares a commitment to move as quickly as possible, while ensuring that decisions are science-based and supported by the public. I wanted to step outside the partnership and talk with two of our conservation kūpuna, biologists who have seen forest bird species that no longer exist, and who are widely recognized for their efforts to save our islands’ endemic species and exceptional ecosystems.
Drs. Shallenberger and Conant are much more than “life listers” – birdwatchers who track every bird species they’ve seen. They each have decades of experience as biologists and ecologists, are accomplished authors and presenters, and their academic credentials have deep roots in Hawaiʻi. Dr. Conant, born and raised on Oʻahu, pursued the path of a university professor, chairing the Zoology Department in her final years at UH Mānoa. Over four decades, she advised a host of graduate students who continue to make their own contributions to conservation in the islands. Dr. Shallenberger melded his interests in science and conservation, serving as the US Fish and Wildlife Service Chief of Refuges and Hawaiʻi Island Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy. Each has contributed to the work of conservation-related boards and advisory groups and has received numerous accolades and recognitions for their work in Hawaiʻi. Shallenberger also is an award-winning wildlife photographer. I asked them to share their perspectives about some of the challenges we’re facing as we race to stop the extinction of our forest birds and connections with the Hakalau refuge.[1]
Question: As a result of land acquisition and restoration efforts, Hakalau is home to one of the most intact native forest bird communities in Hawaiʻi. What are your connections to the Hakalau Forest Refuge?

Sheila: Jack Jeffrey told me they wanted to form a Friends organization and asked me to be the founding President. I also had a student who worked on ʻōmaʻo at the refuge. I remember attending some of the public events; a lot of people come from all over the country to visit the Hakalau Refuge.

Rob: I was involved in early efforts to acquire land for the Hakalau Refuge and am on the Friends Board. There’s a huge contrast between Hakalau and Kauaʻi forests in terms of the mix of insects and opportunities to escape the mosquitoes. 
Question: Use of Wolbachia to suppress mosquito populations has worked elsewhere in the world to protect public health, but it hasn’t been used for conservation, nor has it been applied at this scale. We know a lot about our birds, mosquitoes, and avian malaria in Hawaiʻi, but we also have some knowledge gaps. How do we honor our commitment to science, yet move forward in the face of impending extinctions?

Sheila: If we don’t do something about the mosquitoes, the only [species] that will survive are those that have developed tolerance to avian malaria. When I spoke at the 2012 Hawaiʻi Conservation Conference, the first quote I gave was about non-native species being the single greatest threat to Hawaiʻi’s agriculture, watershed and native species. That quote was from 130 years before the talk. We don’t have to wait until we know everything. We know enough to make some real progress.

Rob: You need to focus on good science and good techniques, but when you think about ecosystem management, you have to accept that this is a complex business. We don’t have all the answers. We’ve been successful in many cases, but we’re also hanging out on the edge. With some of the more complex strategies, everyone has to be talking to one another.
Question: The Birds, Not Mosquitoes project wants to be sure we have meaningful community engagement. We need to inform, engage, and listen to concerns the public may have. We know that some folks may be skeptical about a technology-based strategy, even though only non-biting male mosquitoes would be released. What are some of the best ways to work with the public as we move forward?
Sheila: I don’t think there’s anything I’ve done that’s attracted more interest from my students during classes than playing those recordings [of the ʻōʻō’s songs from Kauaʻi].[2] They hear that and they understand that’s [the birds’] way of telling each other where they are and of attracting each other. I remember Rob and I were both up in the trees listening to these calls from different directions and wondering: Is there some way we can capture this so that people can experience it?

Rob: What do you want people to know about the project? We spend so much time trying to convert people to conservation. We should be designing from the beginning ways to gather data to convince people. You need to demonstrate success to motivate people. You need the best evidence to show it’s working. It’s not enough for wildlife biologists to support the program. You have to get serious about explaining the rationale for what you’re doing. And involve the kids. I remember taking a family one Sunday into a Nature Conservancy preserve to see a huge koa tree that was 25 feet in circumference. One kid, 8-9 years old, was lying on the ground and staring at the sky. He asked his parents if they were going to church that day. His mother replied, “This is like being in a church and not everybody gets to do it.”
Question: In the summary of your 1975 survey of the Alakaʻi Plateau, published two decades after the trip, you emphasized the importance of islands for evolutionary and ecological studies and also said that the sudden collapse of Kauaʻi’s avifauna was a surprise. What’s it like to work in conservation, knowing that you saw and heard some of the last birds of an entire species before they disappeared from our forests and our Earth?
Rob: It’s bittersweet. It’s sad, when you appreciate wildlife and it’s impossible to protect or restore them. But it’s also sweet, when you have organisms you thought were gone for good, and you’re successful, and you see nēnē flying around, a species that was virtually extinct. I’m proud of all that I and others have contributed and what we’ve accomplished.

Sheila: When we went to Kauaʻi for the interviews [with the Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project], we went out on the trail and I was asked, “How does this sound today?” All I could think was, “It’s quiet.” My brother and I bought property in Volcano in 1976. It was always jam-packed with ʻapapane and lots of ʻōmaʻo. Now there are very few ʻōmaʻo. I miss them. But I was really lucky I got to see and do everything I did. We’ve lost a lot of ground, but we can still save some of the remaining bird species. 
Closing thoughts: By the end of my time talking with Rob and Sheila, I felt encouraged by the perspectives they were able to share, based on their experience and their commitment to protecting Hawaiʻi’s forest birds. I gained a strengthened appreciation for ensuring that our decisions are based on solid science, but was also buoyed by their belief that we should continue to move forward while working to fill the remaining knowledge gaps. We need to help people make emotional connections with our native forest birds while also demonstrating that we’re making progress and that the technology is safe. Hawaiʻi Island (including the Hakalau Forest NWR) has more native habitat above the range of disease-carrying mosquitoes and more robust numbers of some forest bird species than the other islands. But we can’t underestimate the pace of change we’re seeing in our forests. With a warming climate, mosquitoes are projected to increase in abundance and move upslope, even at Hakalau Forest, which could cause catastrophic impacts on native birds in one of their last strongholds. We can’t be complacent. Conant, Pratt and Shallenberger concluded their Alakaʻi paper with an admonition that is increasingly relevant: “Procrastination means extinction.” 
[1] I also drew on descriptions from published articles as well as a series of “kūpuna” interviews conducted by the Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project in January 2020. The Kauaʻi gathering brought together a group of researchers to share their experiences with Hawaiʻi’s vanished forest birds and included interviews with Shallenberger and Conant.
[2] Conant and Shallenberger, along with Doug Pratt, heard the songs of the ʻōʻō and ʻōʻū during a 1975 field trip to the Alakaʻi Plateau. A recording of the ʻōʻō’s haunting song, made by Pratt, can be heard online:
About the Author

Teya Penniman is the Project Coordinator for Landscape-scale Mosquito Control with the American Bird Conservancy and facilitates the statewide “Birds, Not Mosquitoes” project. Teya worked as a staff biologist with Pt. Blue Conservation Science and then pursued graduate degrees in law and management focused on natural resources and collaborative problem solving. She served as an assistant Attorney General in Oregon before moving to Maui with her family. She managed the Maui Invasive Species Committee for 14 years, and continues to write about the environment and culture for local publications and at UN conferences and serves as a mediator for agricultural disputes.

To learn more about the Birds, Not Mosquitoes project, visit:

Friends of Hakalau newsletter articles:
Farmer, C. Fall 2020. Race Against Extinction: Applying Wolbachia to Save Hawaiʻi’s Forest Birds. (Describes bird species, the multi-agency partnership, and the technology).

Sutton, J. Fall 2018. Paradise Lost? Hawaii’s 192 Year Mosquito History. (Reviews history of mosquitoes in Hawaiʻi, emergent technologies, and UH research.)

Picture Book:
Loebel-Fried, C. 2020. Manu, the Boy Who Loved Birds. University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Tells the story of a boy named for the now-extinct ʻōʻō bird with wonderful block print art.

Peer-reviewed publications:
Conant, S. 1981. Recent observations of endangered birds in Hawaii’s National Parks. ʻElepaio 41(7): 55-61.

Conant, S, Pratt, H.D., and Shallenberger,R. 1998, Reflections on a 1975 expedition to the lost world of the Alaka`i and other notes on the natural history, systematics, and conservation of Kaua`i birds. Wilson Bulletin 110: 1-22.

Scott, J.M., Conant, S.,and C. vanRiper III, Eds. 2001. Evolution, Ecology, Conservation, and Management of Hawaiian Birds: A Vanishing Avifauna. Studies in Avian Biology; Cooper Ornithological Society, Allen Press Inc.,Lawrence, KS.

Walther, M. 2016. Extinct Birds of Hawaii. Mutual Publishing, LLC.
Help us spread the word.
To get your free sticker (created by the Department of Forestry and Wildlife and Patrick Hart at UH Hilo), send your name and address to
Stories from the early history of the Refuge
2020 is the 35th anniversary of the founding of Hakalau Forest NWR. As a way to celebrate, I am collecting stories to print in the newsletter. This issue covers the early management of Hakalau Forest NWR from 1985 -1993. If you have any stories and/or photos to share please send them to so I can include them in the future issues.
Hakalau Forest NWR - The Early Years 1987-93
Richard Wass

Recent articles and stories by Mike Scott, Peter Stine, Carter Atkinson, Tim Burr, Pauline Kawamata, Leland Jardine, Robbie Robertson, and Jerry Leinecke in the Spring, Summer and Fall 2020 issues of the Friends of Hakalau Forest Newsletter have addressed Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge (HFNWR) history leading up to refuge establishment. My article will focus on the refuge’s early history from its establishment on October 29, 1985 through 1993. 
HFNWR was created primarily to assure the protection, perpetuation and maintenance of five endangered forest bird species and their rain forest habitat. The refuge currently consists of two main units: the 32,730 acre Hakalau Forest Unit located on the windward side of Mauna Kea, Hawaii Island; and the more recently acquired (1997 and later) 15,433 acre Kona Forest Unit (KFU) located on the leeward side of Mauna Loa, Hawaii Island. (The KFU will not be further mentioned in this article.) The Hakalau Forest Unit lies between the elevations of 2,500 and 6,600 ft. and contains some of the finest native forest habitat in the State of Hawaii. The refuge supports a superb avifauna including 14 native species of which 5 are endangered forest birds and 3 are endangered waterbirds. The endangered Hawaiian hoary bat and 8 species of endangered plants also occur at Hakalau. The lower slopes receive very high rainfall and are densely vegetated with ʻōhiʻa trees and tree ferns. Upslope, koa becomes co-dominant with ʻōhiʻa with ferns and native shrubs in the understory. Higher elevations experience less rainfall and have been subject to considerable grazing pressure for more than 100 years. At property acquisition, intensive grazing on the uppermost portion of the refuge had eliminated most of the trees except for remnant koa and ʻōhiʻa protected by steep-walled gulches. The upper area has been partially restored through planting of many thousands of native trees and bushes since 1987.
Hakalau Forest NWR showing current refuge boundaries, 2020 fenced feral ungulate management units and the tree-planting area which was open grassland when the refuge was established in 1985.
Map credited to Steve Kendall.

Two properties totaling 8,313 acres were purchased from the W.H. Shipman Estate (Shipman, Hakalau and Papaikou ungulate management units on map) and The Nature Conservancy/Robertson Family (Upper Maulua unit) on the day the refuge was established. Seven more parcels were purchased during the next ten years from the Liliuokalani Trust (Honohina units), the Robertson Family (lower Maulua), the Shipman Estate (Pua Akala unit), and World Union at a total cost of more than $18 million to the Federal Government. It was most efficient for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to purchase private property by simultaneous purchase from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) which handled most of the negotiations with the landowners. The service would then simultaneously purchase the property from TNC. The somewhat convoluted acquisition process is summarized in Mike Scott’s article in the Summer 2020 newsletter.

Before the refuge was staffed, Dan Moriarty, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Kilauea Point Visitor Center on Kauai, was temporarily detailed to Hakalau to construct a one-room cabin to eventually shelter refuge staff, resource monitoring crews, volunteers, visitors and contractors. The cabin was sited near the top and midpoint of the refuge with an expansive view from the porch of the grassland and forested areas below. The rudimentary structure measured 12 x 20 feet, and was furnished with a table, a few plastic chairs, some army cots to sleep on and a sink suspended between sawhorses which drained into a bucket on the floor. An outhouse was constructed nearby. As the years passed, an indoor bathroom and two wings would be added to the cabin which eventually became known as the volunteer cabin. Additional structures including a garage, dog kennel, staff residence, the BRD cabin, a couple of greenhouses, the University of Hawai’i’s field station and a heavy equipment shed were eventually added to the area currently known as the administrative site.   

The never ending fence construction/maintenance program also started in 1986 with the construction of 6-½ miles of pig/cattle fences to enclose the 1,000 acre Middle Honohina feral ungulate management unit. The fence was designed to keep out wild pigs and feral and domestic cattle. It was formed from 4 ft tall triple galvanized hogwire attached to galvanized steel t-posts every 10 ft. To prevent pigs from squeezing under, the hogwire was attached to the ground at the lowest point between each pair of posts. To prevent cattle from jumping over, barbwire was attached to the t-posts 6 in above the hogwire. A local company was contracted in 1986 to construct the fence. The refuge provided materials. Most of my earliest trips to the refuge involved coordinating logistics with the contractor and inspecting the fence to insure specifications were met. Unfortunately, the bid underestimated the time and labor required to work in the difficult terrain and remote environment. A second contractor was hired a year later (for a lot more money) to complete the job. Currently, 47.14 miles of fence enclosing 10 ungulate management units have been completed and are regularly maintained in the Hakalau Forest Unit.

Dr. Michael Scott, with help from Jack Jeffrey and Oz Garton, set up and initiated an ongoing forest bird census program at Hakalau Forest NWR in 1986. Survey techniques were patterned after Mike’s monumental statewide forest bird survey (see his article in the Spring 2020 Newsletter) which identified the Hakalau area as a hotspot for endangered and native birds. Fourteen permanent transects were established at 500-1,000 meter intervals, beginning along the upper boundary of the refuge and extending 3,000-4,000 m downslope through grazed grasslands and into thick native forest. 239 count stations at 200 m intervals were established along the transects. All birds seen and heard at each station during the 8-minute observation periods were identified and counted. Distances to each bird were estimated. The data were used to estimate population densities in the transected areas for each of eight native species and two alien species. The survey transects were first censused in November 1986 and repeated more or less annually until present day. The repeated counts can be used to measure population trends for the refuge and, thereby, the success of management strategies such as tree planting, feral ungulate removal and weed control. The same methodology has since been adopted for other native forest areas throughout the state of Hawaii to enable population density and trend estimates. Data comparison indicates that native bird populations at Hakalau are stable or increasing which contrasts with declines in other native forest areas of Hawai’i over the same period. By 2006, 3 species of native birds had recolonized Hakalau’s reforested pasturelands. 

I became the first Hakalau employee and Refuge Manager in January 1987. Having worked in the Hawaii and Pacific Islands NWR Complex for the previous three years as Manager of the Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuges, I was familiar with the operational and administrative aspects of federal refuges. However, my University of Hawaii education and my 12 years of experience as a fishery biologist in Micronesia and American Samoa mostly involved coastal marine resources, habitats and problems rather than management of forest landscapes and terrestrial ecosystems, so I had much to learn.

For the first seven months, I worked out of the Honolulu Office of the Hawaii and Pacific Islands NWR Complex, but traveling back and forth to HFNWR for my semi-monthly on-site visits was problematic. I lived in Kailua which generally meant I had to rise and shine very early on a Monday morning, drive to the Honolulu airport and catch the first flight to Hilo. Landing in Hilo, I taxied to the US Forest Service office where I kept a beat-up, 4x4 pickup. I then shopped for supplies for three days on the mountain and made the two-hour drive to the Hakalau cabin, arriving around noon if there were no problems with my vehicle and the stream crossings on Keanakolu Road were not washed out. The process was reversed on my return except I had to allow extra time to pour water on the pickup engine to remedy a persistent vapor-lock problem that often occurred on the steepest hill on the way out to the airport in time to catch my flight back to Honolulu. 

Working alone on an often cold and rainy mountain and the 4-wheel driving on muddy and almost non-existent roads was a new experience for me. I carried a bumper jack so I could pack brush, logs and rocks under the jacked-up wheels to gain traction. After experiencing Hakalau for the first time, our Engineer from the Regional Office in Portland confided to me these were the worst roads on any national wildlife refuge in the nation. I remember being impressed with the silence on the upper elevations above the forest (when the wind was not blowing and the cattle not mooing). When drinking a carbonated soda, I could even hear the the bubbles fizzing in my mouth and running down to my stomach.

Communication from the refuge and vehicle was non-existent as there were no cell phones in those days and it would be at least a year before a radio phone was installed in the pickup. Given the isolation, safety was a particular concern so I always made sure to coordinate with my boss, Jerry Leinecke, in the Honolulu Office of the Refuge Complex before I left. My wife had instructions to call Jerry if I did not arrive home by 8:00 pm on the day of my scheduled return. Travel to the refuge became much easier when my family and I moved to the Big Island in August 1987 and set up the Hakalau Forest NWR office in the Hilo Federal Building.

Forest restoration at Hakalau began in May 1987 under an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to determine efficient and cost effective methods for regeneration of native forest. A fenced 6-acre reforestation plot (termed the Magnetic Hill Exclosure) was established on open grassland (mostly kikuyu grass in grazed pasture) within the Shipman unit at the highest elevation of the refuge (6,600 ft) which is near the upper limit for koa and ʻōhiʻa. Several hundred koa seedlings and rooted ʻōhiʻa cuttings were out-planted within the exclosure and monitored for survival and growth. Survival after one year was good but vigor was only average for koa and below average for ʻōhiʻa. Frost damage was deemed a likely cause for the somewhat poor vigor and slow growth.

A second experimental reforestation plot (termed the Woodland Exclosure) was established in July 1987. It was located at about 5,500 ft in the SW corner of the Middle Honohina unit where the understory consisted mostly of introduced grasses. There was a scattered overstory of mature koa and ʻōhiʻa trees. No trees were planted in the Woodland Exclosure. Rather, the ground was scarified with a disc to a depth of about 5 in to stimulate germination of the existing natural seed bank. Scarified plots were located under live koa trees, under standing but dead koa trees and in grassy areas well away from standing koa trees. By January 1988, koa seedlings were abundant under live trees, fairly numerous under dead trees and appeared occasionally in the open areas with no koa overstory. The foliage on most of these seedlings was dark green and the sprouted seedlings were taller and more vigorous than the out-planted seedlings on Magnetic Hill, probably due to the greater warmth and higher moisture at the lower elevation. The Forest Service experimental plots provided much useful information and guidance for future large scale reforestation efforts at Hakalau.

By 1989, enough was known about koa restoration at Hakalau to go beyond the experimental stage and initiate a full scale reforestation program. Seed pods were harvested by volunteers at higher elevations on and above the refuge to ensure the seedlings had frost resistant characteristics. Seedlings were grown in “dibble tubes” at the State Tree Nursery in Waimea to a height of 8-20 inches and passed to the refuge just before out-planting. Seedlings were planted at 12-foot spacing in 3-row-wide, mauka-makai corridors that were disked or scraped with a bulldozer to reduce competition from thick pasture grass. Volunteers carrying bags of seedlings, proceeded down the corridor with a “dibble stick” pointed with a heavy metal tip designed to punch a hole in the soil that was sized to receive the root-ball removed from the dibble tube seconds earlier. The efficient planting technique enabled a crew of 6-10 volunteers led by refuge staff to plant 1,000-3,000 koa seedlings on a single weekend.
The 1989 planting corridor began at about 6,400 feet elevation on the north side of the Shipman Unit at the top of the refuge in former pastureland and extended down through kikuyu grass pastureland to about 5,200 ft elevation at the upper edge of the forest. About 11,000 koa seedlings were initially planted in this corridor which was relatively cool and dry at the upper end and warmer and wetter at the bottom end. Thus, began a very successful koa tree planting program at Hakalau .

The koa planting effort received a huge boost in 1992, when the Big Island Resource Conservation and Development Council partnered with the refuge to secure a $31,300 Global ReLeaf grant from American Forests to conduct a 5-year koa planting program. These funds were primarily used to fund the propagation of koa seedlings at the Waimea tree nursery and to pay a temporary crew leader (Barry Orlando) to organize and supervise volunteer crews to harvest and shuck koa seed pods and to plant seedlings. A total of 150,000 koa seedlings were planted under this grant. Near the end of the ReLeaf grant, the refuge was given the honor of planting the one-millionth seedling funded by the Global ReLeaf program.

In 1991, six planting site treatments to reduce competition from alien grasses were tested: 1) use of a bulldozer and disc to scarify a continuous corridor; 2) use of a propane torch to burn a 1 m diameter cleared area; 3) use of a weedwacker to clear a planting area; 4) use of Roundup herbicide to kill grass in a 1 m area; 5) use of a hoe to manually scalp an area; and 6) no grass removal by any method. The use of a bulldozer to overturn or scrape away the grass proved best in terms of efficiency and seedling survival. Through the years, bulldozer implements evolved from a disc dragged behind a bulldozer to a multi-tined ripper mounted on the back of a dozer to a mini-ripper mounted on the corner of the main dozer blade to a specially designed mini-blade mounted on the corner of the main blade. The application of fertilizer and the use of an easily fabricated and deployed device to protect seedlings from frost were also studied to finally arrive at the process used today.
Hakalau Forest NWR’s native forest restoration effort continues unabated to the present. While koa planting was emphasized during the early years, the bulk of the current propagation and planting effort is focused on common non-koa trees such as ʻōhiʻa, 'ōlapa and māmane, and on smaller plants, some rare and endangered. Scattered koa is the optimal overstory for most native plants. Koa helps to acidify soil pH, adds nitrogen and organic material to the soil, moderates summer heat and winter cold, provides shade, reduces wind speed, and adds moisture to the soil from leaf drip so most non-koa species are planted within or on the edge of the koa corridors or in naturally forested areas. After a few years of growth, the koa corridors provide routes for native birds to move up from the existing forest to colonize former grassland habitats . Shade created by planted koas also helps to control sun-loving weeds like gorse.

Two greenhouses (the first in 1997) were eventually constructed on the refuge to propagate common and endangered plant seedlings and thousands of hard-working volunteers were recruited to support the massive tree planting and propagation program. Many studies were done by refuge staff and other researchers to develop innovative propagation and out-planting techniques. At least 21 endangered and native plant species numbering more than 558,000 seedlings and rooted cuttings have been planted at Hakalau since 1987.  Koa seedlings planted at warmer and wetter elevations are currently more than 40 ft. tall.

As mentioned earlier, I became the first Hakalau staff member in 1987. Maintenance Worker Jon Emig became the second member of the Hakalau team in 1988. His early duties included the installation of a water catchment and distribution system; a kitchen sink, kitchen cabinets and six permanent bunks in Hakalau cabin; construction of the first cabin addition including a bathroom sink, shower and toilet plus a second bunk room with its own outside door and four bunks; fence maintenance to repair wash-outs, tree-fall damage and havoc from pig and cattle pressure; herbicide application to gorse; and general repair/maintenance of vehicles, structures and equipment.  He spent most of his 5-day workweek on the Refuge, with nights in Hakalau cabin to avoid the four-hour round-trip travel time between the Hilo Office and the Refuge. Jon was the perfect man for the job because he was a “jack-of-all-trades”, worked well independently, and was happy in the isolated environment. In the 1990’s, when public hunting for pigs and feral cattle was authorized on the refuge and public use increased, Jon acquired law enforcement credentials. He was the first of many outstanding Hakalau staff members during my 22 year tenure as Refuge Manager.
Maintenance Worker Tony Texiera was hired in April 1990 to assist Jon with fence and facilities maintenance and construction, as well as gorse, pig and cattle control. Five months later, Wildlife Biologist Jack Jeffrey was hired. He had lots of experience with forest bird censuses, including all of the earlier Hakalau bird counts while working with Mike Scott and others at the Hawaii Research Station, FWS. Immediately Jack also took the lead with ungulate, weed and other resource surveys and had a leadership role with the reforestation effort, volunteer management and refuge research.  Office Automation Clerk/Administrative Assistant Lynne Hanzawa joined the Hakalau staff in January 1992 and quickly became indispensable for her computer skills and administrative support.
Maintenance Worker Foreman Andrew Kikuta came on board in June 1992 to lead the habitat management crew responsible for fence maintenance/repair, pig and cattle removal, weed control and facilities maintenance. Two months later Andy selected two more Maintenance Workers (Victor Souza and Terrence Takiue) to join Tony on the habitat management crew. During the ensuing years, there was considerable turnover amongst the maintenance workers and junior staff but the senior staff (Jack, Lynne, Andy and myself) continued at the refuge for 22 or more years. Horticulturist Baron Horiuchi is also recognized for his long-term service. Baron was hired in 1996 to lead the tree planting and propagation effort and has since led most of the weekend volunteer crews. Lynne and Baron are still working at Hakalau. The refuge owes much of its success and accomplishments to these faithful, hard-working, long-term employees.

An informal group of Hawaii land managers and conservation biologists was convened in 1988 to discuss initial management strategies and accomplishments and to advise the new refuge and its greenhorn manager regarding future strategies and priorities. Thirteen experts from the Institute of Pacific Island Forestry, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, The Nature Conservancy, State Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the Fish and Wildlife Service met for a full day in the Refuge Office in Hilo to suggest and discuss management recommendations for Hakalau Forest NWR, the first forest bird refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The meeting was extremely helpful to me as Refuge Manager. This and a similar meeting a year later with the same group set the broad course for Hakalau Forest management for the next 20 years. 

Other valuable agency partners and advisors including University of Hawaii, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Haleakala National Park, State Department of Hawaiian Homes and USGS Biological Resources Division, provided a wealth of useful advice.

Large scale volunteer effort began at Hakalau in 1988 with a weekend of rehabilitation effort at Nauhi Cabin by a 10-person crew of refuge supporters. Jon and Dick supervised the crew which repainted the interior and repaired windows and steps at the cabin which was built around 1920 but had little use and no maintenance since the 1960’s or 70’s. The main contribution by volunteers prior to this was participation in the annual forest bird census. During succeeding years, volunteers became a big help with gorse and banana poka control, facilities maintenance, koa seed pod harvesting and shucking, seedling propagation in the refuge greenhouse and tree planting. They have always been happy to exchange their time and effort for an opportunity to view native birds, experience a beautiful hike in the rain forest and spend a couple nights in the volunteer cabin. Thousands of volunteer hours have been contributed each year. Hakalau’s tree planting and seedling propagation programs, in particular, owe much of their success to these amazing, hardworking and adventurous people.

An ongoing problem with the volunteer program, especially during the early years, was the shortage of staff and time to supervise volunteer groups and to coordinate their logistics, transportation and cabin use. Funds from the Global ReLeaf grant were used to pay a volunteer coordinator (Barry Orlando) to organize and lead volunteer tree planters from 1992 to 1996 but, for the most part, the manager, biologist and maintenance workers assumed these responsibilities during the early years. Beginning with his hire in 1996, Horticulturist Baron Horiuchi took the lead with coordinating and leading volunteer crews assisting with tree planting and seedling propagation. By then, these programs were receiving the bulk of the volunteer time.

Feral cattle probably roamed at least the upper slopes of the refuge since the mid 1800s and domestic cattle grazed the property after it was fenced in the early 1900s. Thus, native forest at the upper elevations had already been been severely degraded by cattle when land ownership passed to the federal government.  As Conditions of Sale, the Fish and Wildlife Service allowed domestic cattle grazing to continue for a few additional years on some of the first properties purchased. Accordingly, Cooperative Agreements with the Pua Akala Ranch (managed by Willie Andrade) and the Alfred Nobriga Ranch (managed by Freddie Nobriga) were signed in 1986 and 1987 to govern continued grazing. The agreements specified a maximum stocking rate of one animal per five acres and set the initial value of one animal unit of grazing at $22.00 per year based on a survey conducted by the FWS. Grazing credits for the two ranches were tracked in an account that was debited by equivalent value services relating to grazing and grassland management. The services included fence and road maintenance, boundary posting, exotic vegetation control, removal of feral cattle, and bulldozer time to scarify land to stimulate koa seedling germination and growth. This “in kind” account proved extremely valuable to the new refuge which initially had no staff (except the Refuge Manager) to provide labor and no bulldozer to accomplish land management actions. Thousands of dollars of badly needed services were provided the refuge under these agreements during the 3+ years they were in force.
Feral pigs, descendant from European stock, have been abundant in the Hakalau area since the early 1800’s. Significant population control at the refuge became possible upon completion of the first fenced unit (550 acres known as the Middle Honohina unit) in 1988 (see map above). With major help from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s team of skilled hunters and a hunter from the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the wild cattle and pig populations in this unit were reduced to near zero in 1989 using rifles for the cattle and hunting dogs for the pigs. The same team of hunters came to the refuge the following year to remove cattle and pigs from the much larger and newly fenced 5,000 acre Shipman unit (recently divided into three fenced units). During the initial two-hour helicopter charter used in this unit, 53 cattle were shot by an aerial hunter.  Fourteen additional cattle and 44 pigs were taken by ground hunters (Park Service and refuge staff) in 1990. The feral ungulate control program at Hakalau was off to a productive start. 94 more feral cattle were shot from a helicopter and 66 cattle were shot by ground hunters (including the general public) during 1991 and 1992. The entire Shipman unit (was declared cattle-free in 1992 after Ernie Pung, a contractor who owned a pack of catahoula hounds trained to catch cattle, came in to shoot the final 22 head. In 1993-94, the general public was allowed to enter the 1,942 acre Upper Maulua unit to hunt pigs with dogs. They removed 18 pigs the first year but lost interest when the pig population was reduced to the point where pigs were more difficult to catch. The refuge staff eventually used snares to finish the job. Hundreds of cattle and more than a thousand pigs were ultimately removed from fenced units by refuge staff, contracted hunters and public hunters, through use of helicopters, rifles, dog teams, one-way gates, snares and corral traps. A Feral Ungulate Control Plan was approved for Hakalau in 1996 to guide future fence construction and ungulate removal efforts. Pig and cattle control, including much fence maintenance and repair, will always be required at Hakalau as trespassing animals from surrounding properties break through fences and enter through sections damaged by wash-outs and tree-falls.

A major management concern for the new refuge was control of introduced weeds that outcompete the native vegetation and provide little or no habitat for endemic species. Gorse, banana poka and Florida blackberry already had a strong foothold and growing impact at Hakalau when the property became a wildlife refuge. An Interagency Agreement between the Soil Conservation Service, the Forest Service and FWS was signed in 1987 to address these and other invasive weed species. A committee was soon formed to study and recommend gorse control measures for all of the mid-elevation properties, on the windward side of Mauna Kea where gorse was a big problem. The application of herbicide (initially Tordon 22k) followed by prescribed burns was recommended for Hakalau, particularly in the SW corner where gorse cover was extensive. Jon Emig and I began the gorse control effort in 1988 using backpack sprayers. A 4x4 ATV with a spray pump and 15 gal tank mounted on the rear cargo rack was acquired a year later which greatly increased efficiency. In 1989, Honua Landscaping was contracted to provide equipment and 360 man-hours of labor to spray the smaller outlying gorse patches on the perimeter of the main infestation.

Gorse control methods evolved in succeeding years with the use of Garlon herbicide followed by prescribed burning. Later an oil-based version of Garlon was applied to burnt stumps with still viable roots. Eventually a contractor with bulldozer was hired to scrape the largest patches into piles of dead gorse followed by application of Garlon. Early on, volunteer crews were recruited to use “weed wrenches” to lever out individual gorse plants in forested areas where herbicide and fire could damage native forest.

Currently, the refuge is mostly free of gorse though Pest Control Workers on staff must still spend considerable time each year applying herbicide to young gorse plants sprouting from the long-lived seed bank and from seeds that are washed or blown in from neighboring properties where gorse is uncontrolled. Shade and competition from planted koas also serve to retard germination and growth of gorse seeds which prefer full sunlight to sprout and grow.
Unlike gorse which mainly occurred in open grassland areas of the refuge, banana poka was a problem in the forested upper Maulua Unit on the northern side of the refuge.  Poka grows as a vine more than 100 feet long and up to 2” thick at its base. It drapes over tall bushes and trees and is manually killed by uprooting the vine from its base and hanging the root over vegetation so it has no contact with the wet ground. Mature vines with a base diameter exceeding 1” would not regrow when severed near their base with loppers or a machete. Poka control was accomplished by weekend volunteer crews led by refuge staff It was difficult to keep track of 8-12 eager people wandering through thick forest in rugged terrain so lost hikers were an occasional problem. (Fortunately, we found them all eventually.)

Other problem weeds at Hakalau include Florida blackberry which was usually sprayed with herbicide by refuge staff, German ivy which was usually cut and uprooted by volunteer crews and young sugi pine trees which were levered out by volunteers using weed wrenches.

Scientific research has always been encouraged at the refuge, usually through issue of a Special Use Permit (SUP) with several conditions attached. Forest bird research was initiated in 1987 by Dr. Leonard Freed, University of Hawaii. He was issued a SUP to conduct ornithological research on the evolution of sexual dichromatism and cavity-nesting in the Hawai’i ‘akepa which later broadened to include observational, demographic, behavioral and genetic studies on all native forest birds at Hakalau and the use of artificial nesting cavities to increase the ʻakepa population.  Dr. Freed, along with his colleagues and students, deployed aerial mist nets and began an intensive banding study of native birds immediately below the Pua Akala cabin and barn where endangered ʻakepa, Hawaii creeper and ʻakiapōlāʻau are most abundant. Birds captured by entanglement in a mist net were weighed, measured, sexed, examined and banded with numbered and colored leg bands to enable their subsequent identification, either in hand when caught again in a mist net or from a distance with binoculars.  By the end of 1993, Freed and his students had banded 2,749 native and introduced birds including a total of 229 individuals of three endangered species. The banded-bird population, along with the recapture and visual observations of known individuals, yielded much information of value to Hakalau managers and biologists. Dr. Rebecca Cann joined Dr. Freed as a chief investigator under his SUP at Hakalau in 1990. She began a bird blood sampling program to be used for genetic studies. Under her leadership, 1,204 blood samples were collected by the end of 1993. Freed’s and Cann’s field studies were assisted by several graduate students who simultaneously conducted their own research at Hakalau. They included Jaan Lepson, who studied temporal plumage maturation in the ʻakepa; Eric Vanderwerf, who studied ‘elepaio life history; Patrick Hart, who studied forest bird behavior and demography; and Robert Peck and Scott Fretz, who netted, trapped and cataloged Hakalau insects.

Initially, the bird researchers were permitted to erect semi-permanent tents in the clearing below the Pua Akala barn where native and endangered birds were particularly abundant. In 1990, a three-sided rain shelter was constructed next to the tents where researchers could comfortably shelter, work and eat in a dry and warm place though sleeping was still confined to the tents. In 1991, the University of Hawaii was awarded a grant by the MacArthur Foundation to build a permanent field station on the refuge complete with a well equipped laboratory, a large classroom, a kitchen and sleeping quarters for up to 28 people. Soon thereafter, refuge management decided the Hakalau administrative site located in the grasslands above the forest would be the best location for such a structure. The volunteer cabin, staff cabin, maintenance garage, greenhouses, etc. were already or would be located at the administrative site above the forest where fewer forest birds would be affected by the noise, lights, vehicular traffic and extra activities associated with the station. The UH Field Station was ultimately constructed by contractors and UH students and completed in 1999. It is currently managed by the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Perhaps the most important and certainly the oldest and longest continuous biological survey at Hakalau Forest NWR is the forest bird survey. The first version of this survey was part of Mike Scott’s 1976-79 statewide forest bird survey which led to creation of the refuge. The current version of the Hakalau Forest bird survey was first conducted in 1986 and has been repeated annually or biannually most every year thereafter. The stable and increasing population trends documented by this survey validate and support the forest restoration and invasive species management actions taken at Hakalau since the refuge was established.

Most of the other Hakalau surveys conducted over the years by Hakalau staff, sister agencies, scientists and volunteers are designed to estimate the abundance and distribution of managed plant and animal populations in order to determine the effectiveness of specific management actions. They include growth and survival of planted tree seedlings, distribution and abundance of pigs and cattle, distribution of invasive weed species such as gorse, banana poka and Florida blackberry, and the distribution and abundance of predators like rats and cats.


Documentation of Hakalau Forest NWR’s history after 1993 will be left to someone else and this early history barely touches the surface of what happened during the first eight years but I want to add that an annual Open House was held in 1993 and most years thereafter to publicize the refuge and to invite the general public to access the refuge, participate in guided bird hikes and experience the Hawaiian rainforest. The 2004 Open House celebrated the 100th anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System and featured the burial of a 100-year time capsule just inside the main gate. Another major event was the establishment of Friends of Hakalau Forest (FOHF) in 2006. FOHF has provided a tremendous amount of volunteer support to the refuge and has also established a perpetual endowment (currently valued at more than $250,000) to assist with refuge management actions. Finally, I want to give a huge thank you to the many staff, volunteers, partners, government agencies, researchers, students, contractors, neighboring landowners, the general public and Friends of Hakalau Forest for their support and assistance during the entire 35 years of Hakalau’s history. We can all be proud of what has been accomplished thus far and know the greatest successes still lie ahead.
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
   Patrick Hart
   Cathy Lowder

 Members at large
Denise Antonlini
Creighton Litton
Eben Paxton
Patricia Richardson
George Robertson
Don Romero
Mike Scott  
Rob Shallenberger