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Camilo Mora, UH Mānoa geography professor in the College of Social Sciences

Tom Lenchanko seriously embraces his role as guardian of the sacred State Monument Kūkaniloko Birthstones in Central Oʻahu. He and other members of the Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā (HCCW) take meticulous care of the 10 acres of undeveloped land brimming with historical and cultural significance. Dating back to 760 AD, it was the birthplace of royal children during the monarchy.

The lightbulb moment for Lenchanko came one day in 2019, while attending a tree-planting event on Oʻahu. He became excited by an idea: Why not plant thousands of native Hawaiian trees at Kūkaniloko to reforest the area while also improving watershed management? That’s when he approached Camilo Mora, a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa geography professor and principal investigator of the Carbon Neutrality Challenge.

person kneeling in the field
Tom Lenchanko, member of the Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā (Photo credit: Jordyn Poyo)

“When I was contacted by Uncle Tom to help, I could not resist,” said Mora. “He is one of those rare people who are truly connected with the land and the communities surrounding it. I really appreciate all the hard work that he puts into maintaining that site and, given its historical significance, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of his effort to reforest Kūkaniloko.”

During the 2021 holiday break, Mora and his family, Lenchanko and fellow HCCW volunteers spent several Saturdays digging holes and planting seeds and saplings that will grow into sturdy koa, lonomea, wiliwili and manele trees. Funding assistance came from HCCW, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and private supporters.

Survival of the seeds and young trees at Kūkaniloko is projected to be about 90%, since there is continuing maintenance of the plantings by HCCW members. “Our goal is to reforest the land with 200,000 native Hawaiian hardwoods,” said Lenchanko.

Kūkaniloko is one of the sites supported by Mora’s Carbon Neutrality Challenge, a joint project by UH Mānoa and numerous organizations that aims to restore local ecosystems by offsetting carbon emissions with tree-plantings. Major sponsors include the Marion R. Weber Family Fund and Brodie Lockard. The challenge has already reached important milestones, such as in December 2020, when 2,000 volunteers planted 10,000 Native Hawaiian trees over hours on Gunstock Ranch in Kahuku, with additional support from the Hawaiʻi Legacy Restoration Initiative and the Honolulu Garden Club.

“Our ultimate goal is to plant one million trees a day in Hawaiʻi,” said Mora. “We have already perfected the planting process so that any average person can plant about 20 trees in an hour. Following that math, if we manage to get only 10% of the population to participate—that would be 100,000 people—it is a path to plant one million trees a day.”

To contact Mora, email For more information on the UH Foundation Carbon Neutrality Project in Geography, see the website at For more information on HCCW, which hopes to expand the tree-planting effort to a larger area of the protected site, see the website at

The Department of Geography and Environment is in UH Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences.

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goals of Building a Sustainable and Resilient Campus Environment: Within the Global Sustainability and Climate Resilience Movement (PDF) and Becoming a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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