Hawaiʻi Community College – Pālamanui is gaining a neighboring 706-acre forest preserve that will be an important outdoor learning area for students and the community.
The Pālamanui Campus Preserve project has received the green light from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, which authorized a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the University of Hawaiʻi and the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) to collaboratively manage the lowland dry forest area next to the North Kona campus. The parties are in the process of completing the MOU.
Richard Stevens, a history lecturer at Hawaiʻi CC – Pālamanui who has helped lead the project, said it’s a huge step toward protecting a critical environment.
“The most endangered ecosystem in Hawaiʻi is the lowland dry forest, and in fact the lowland tropical dry forest is the most endangered ecosystem worldwide,” Stevens said. “In other words, this type of forest all over the world has almost completely disappeared, so this is hugely important ecologically to preserve what remains and restore what is gone.”
Stevens has been taking students and community members into the forest for years to help clear trails, gather seeds to propagate native plants and to connect students’ study of history to a real place. He said the Pālamanui Campus Preserve features ancient Hawaiian trails, archaeological sites, and beautiful wiliwili trees, lama trees and other species that make it a place rich with opportunity for education and inspiration.
“This is the practice of Indigenous wisdom, to restore and protect and assist the ʻāina, to help it recover,” said Stevens.
Student Hiwa Campbell, who is studying liberal arts at Hawaiʻi CC – Pālamanui, said time spent in the forest preserve supports academics, but has also reminded her of values such as patience that carry over into the rest of her student life.
“The forest preserve would be a huge resource for agriculture, forestry, possibly botany,” Campbell said. “But also, in the action of restoring and perpetuating something, it gives students a sense of place and belonging and teaches values that sometimes academics doesn’t teach us.”
Hawaiʻi CC has existing programs in natural science and tropical forest ecosystem and agroforestry management that could potentially use the preserve as a learning resource.
“These two academic programs align perfectly with this unique outdoor laboratory, which creates potential opportunities for them to expand and grow in West Hawaiʻi,” said Raynette “Kalei” Haleamau-Kam, interim director of Hawaiʻi CC – Palamanui.
Elliott Parsons, a natural area reserves specialist with DOFAW, said the collaboration with Hawaiʻi CC – Pālamanui is a natural fit.
“Having a 706-acre dry forest preserve as a living laboratory for students is the perfect place to engage student curiosity, allow students to gain practical skills in conservation and resource management, and teach students about the incredible endemic biodiversity of the Hawaiian Islands and how to protect it,“ Parsons said. “UH is playing a vital role in training the next generation of conservation leaders, and there is therefore great overlap in the educational and resource protection missions of both UH and DOFAW.”
—By Thatcher J. P. Moats