From Mountain to Sea

Protecting cloud forests and sparkling bays

THE PEOPLE OF THESE ISLANDS HISTORICALLY have held a deep-rooted relationship with their environment. In fact, ancient Hawaiians traced their lineage back to the land itself—acknowledging the powerful forces of the natural world through stories that linked man with the land, sea, planets and stars. These values can still be found today in organizations and people who are giving of their resources, knowledge and time toward the betterment of the ‘aina and its inhabitants.

Since its establishment in 2008, Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods (HLH) has been implementing an aggressive reforestation project that calls for the replanting of hundreds of acres of Acacia koa on the Island of Hawai‘i.

“Most businesses in the world today have a tendency to consume resources; our objective was to create a sustainable business that would actually leave behind more resources than it used, not less,” says HLH CEO Jeffery Dunster.

Koa, considered by many as the “mother tree” of Hawaiian forests, is the world’s most valuable tropical hardwood. Found only in Hawai‘i, koa also is one of the scarcest hardwoods around, as land clearing, unsustainable harvesting, feral cattle and other invasive pests have depleted nearly 90 percent of the world’s supply.

According to Dunster, HLH operates on both a conservation and a commercial model designed to restore Hawai‘i’s endangered tropical hardwood forests using sustainable practices and proprietary technology.

“Planting trees is sustainable development in its simplest form,” says Dunster, who first envisioned this business plan more than 15 years ago with longtime business partner, friend and HLH COO, Darrell Cox. “This system will provide resources, carbon sequestration and ecosystem diversity all while enhancing the societal well-being of the local community.”

Under the Legacy Tree program, donors have the opportunity to purchase a koa tree that becomes a permanent part of HLH’s growing Hawaiian forest. Each tree is integrated with a GPS/GIS mapping system with RFID technology that allows tree owners to locate their very own koa on maps and by satellite imagery.

“As the trees grow, you will be able to go online at no cost using applications like Google Earth and see your tree from space,” Dunster says. “If you are the hands-on type, you can schedule a visit to your tree, or for those really adventurous types, you can even make arrangements to come and personally plant your own Legacy tree.”

Over a 50-year lifetime, a single Legacy koa tree will generate 13,000 pounds of oxygen, sequester 8,200 pounds of carbon dioxide, recycle 200,000 gallons of water, and provide $62,000 worth of air pollution control as well as $31,250 worth of soil erosion control.

Additionally, these permanent Legacy forests, Dunster says, will help re-establish wildlife corridors and support the state of Hawai’i in its efforts to protect and recharge its depleted watershed.

HLH currently has 1,000 acres of land on the slopes of Mauna Kea, once part of an ancient koa forest that was the personal property of King Kamehameha the Great. The land originally was cleared a century ago to make room for farming and ranching, but in just three years HLH has planted more than 140,000 trees on 500 acres.

“We expect to complete another 500 acres within the next 18 months,” shares Dunster. “As these trees are establishing themselves, we are inter-planting additional native species—mamane, naio, ‘ohi‘a and ‘iliahi – throughout the forest. We are even cultivating the native shrubs, such as Hawaiian mint and Hawaiian raspberry.

“When finished we will all have a completely restored cloud forest that we can all enjoy with our children and that will provide educational experiences for keiki and visitors.”

The cost of sponsoring one tree is $60, $20 of which will be donated to the charity of the donor’s choice, and $1 of which will go to the Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. The remaining amount goes back to HLH’s reforestation initiative.

HLH also supports more than 200 charities through its Legacy program and has more than 50 Legacy Partners from around the world, including cornerstone partner The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, which has committed to the planting of 500,000 trees.

To sponsor a tree or to find more information about HLH and its programs, visit, email or call its Honolulu offices at 595-8847 (or toll-free at 877-707-TREE).

“Planting a tree is very emotional; it allows one to transcend one’s own life and reach into the next,” Dunster says. “Each tree becomes a living legacy and a gift that grows grander year after year.”

Malama Maunalua

Just as HLH is leaving a lasting legacy with its work restoring Hawai‘i’s native natural resources on land, Malama Maunalua is committed to returning East O‘ahu’s Maunalua Bay to its former glory.

Founded in 2005 by kama‘aina of the Maunalua community— founding members include Bruce and Lita Blankenfeld, Mitch D’Olier, Alyssa Miller, Pauline Sato, Laura Thompson, Nainoa Thompson and Carol Wilcox—Malama Maunalua is a community-based group that works in collaboration with scientists, resource managers, state and federal agencies, and private organizations to conserve and restore the deteriorating bay.

“Most of the founders have lived their whole lives here. They felt like they were blessed to grow up in an abundant and thriving Maunalua Bay, and they would like future keiki to be able to experience the same thing,” says Rae DeCoito, Malama Maunalua executive director.

“We work with a sense of urgency because Nainoa Thompson came out and basically said we only have five to 10 years to reverse the decline (of the bay),” DeCoito adds. “We’re real results-oriented, and we’re trying to do it now.”

In just seven years, Malama Maunalua and grown from a small group of concerned residents into a statewide effort that to-date has eliminated 27 acres and more than three million pounds of invasive algae from the bay, creating more than 70 jobs in the process.

Though DeCoito says there are still roughly 50 acres left to clear, Malama Maunalua has begun shifting its scope of work to the next phase: maintenance.

In 2011 Malama Maunalua launched Pulama Wai: Every Drop Counts, a pilot project that is working with area residents and organizations to reduce sediment run-off from entering the bay.

“It’s a little bit of a new direction for us,” DeCoito explains. “We’ve recognized that Leather Mudweed, the invasive algae, really grew because the sediment was coming down from the erosion. So we’re trying to attack it from all different areas.”

So far, the group has helped install a rain garden at Kaiser High School, published a handbook for reducing runoff with UH Sea Grant, partnered with Waldorf School on a weekly clean-up activity, and started a neighborhood Pulama Wai project in Koko Kai/ Portlock.

But DeCoito notes many of these successes would not be possible without the generous support of sponsors and partners, who provide funding, in-kind contributions, expert resources and services, and who regularly join in on projects and outreach.

“We are very much a community organization,” she says. “These are major compliments that people are doing this because they love the bay, they love our community and they really feel like we’re making an impact “People are willing to work with an agency that’s making a difference.”

Malama Maunalua holds community gatherings called huki (meaning literally “to pull”) as a way to pull the community together to pull out invasive algae, as well as other volunteer opportunities throughout the year.

To find out ways to get involved or donate to the cause, visit or call 395-5050.

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