I had an awesome time up at Pu’u Mali today, on the north slope of Mauna Kea. It took 3 1/2 hours to get there from Hilo, but we had amazing weather and I only wish I could have spent more time up there with the Mauna Kea Forest Restoration field crew. Getting back went a bit quicker, perhaps from going downhill. I left at 3:30pm and got into Hilo around 6pm to have dinner with my mom at Cafe 100!
My morning started when I met up with Cheyanne (‘Danger’) Rapoza and Ku’ulei Vickery at the Department of Forestry and Wildlife in Hilo and followed them through Waimea, and drove through emerald green hills of pasture and ranch land.
We hit some gnarly fog that was quite beautiful and surreal, but we kept driving through until we got to the main gates where we began rolling through a seriously grassy field that hadn’t seen a cow or mower in several months.
We finally arrived at the camp site, which had a cabin and a few A-frames, and settled in for lunch. Jackson Bauer, James Reidman and Matt Politano arrived in a truck a bit later, because they were towing the ATV and mower which required a slower pace to ensure the safe arrival of their brand new equipment. I had met the crew during the palila count two weeks ago and finally had a chance to chat with them.
After lunch, I waited for the crew to set up and I got to see two more palila (woo hoo!) after hearing a clear loud palila chirp above the amakihi chatter. What luck! Unfortunately I did not have my telephoto lens or binoculars on me, but I have a bad photo that confirms my sightings of the pair.
The crew geared up to measure hectare plots and mow some road grass (the stuff that grows between the tire marks). Over the next four days, the crew will camp out up here, and herbicide invasive weeds, mow grass and prepare the plots of land to plant seedlings in the spring. The goal is to reforest and improve palila habitat, and return the pastureland back into a native Hawaiian subalpine forest.
So to backtrack a little, Pu’u Mali in addition to another area called Kaohe Game Management Area make up what is about 6,500 acres of mitigation land for palila because of the realignment of Saddle Road. So what exactly does a new road have to do with getting some land set aside for palila? Saddle Road was built in 1942 by the military to provide access between the two major cities on the Big Island, Hilo on the east, and Kona on the west through the pass between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The short story is the federal government has spent over $42 million to fix the windy, dangerous road, and the new plans intersect (thus obfuscate) legally mandated palila critical habitat. The federal government set aside funds and land to mitigate the loss of habitat, but I learned that palila don’t actually live in those areas being used for the road.
I really was hoping to see the hack towers where the captive bred flock of palila from KBCC have been released in Pu’u Mali, but alas I ran out of time! I guess i’ll have to save that for my next visit to Hawai’i…