Death of Ohia Lehua Trees Is National Park Mystery
The dying of large numbers of mature ohia lehua trees in certain areas along the Chain of Craters road is baffling the staff of the Hawaii National park.
Something in this volcanic region is killing the tree. The problem has not been exhaustively analyzed, although soil analyses for salts, minerals and gasses have revealed the presence of nothing to account for the circumstances. No fungus, insect or plant disease has been detected.
Speaking to the Rotary club of Hilo on the Hawaii national park, its purpose and its problems at the Hilo hotel Friday, P. H. Baldwin, assistant superintendent of the park, referred to the dying of large numbers of mature ohia lehua trees as a “baffling phenomenon”—a “forest enigma” claiming the attention of the park staff.
Every day, according to Mr. Baldwin, some 160 persons drive through the park along the mamalahoa highway, each night about 50 guests sleep at the Volcano House and numerous members of the armed for es relax at the KMC and on weekends a few visitors manage to find the gasoline to tour the crater rim highway and the Chain of Craters road. Frequently, a group of young people from the plantations or some youth organization camp or hike in the forests.
What these people find there, he said, is “a public park and pleasure ground governed in such a way as to promote the use of its volcanoes, forests and bird life for recreation and esthetic enjoyment without destroying the primitive and virgin character of those natural objects.”
Mr. Baldwin sketched how this national playground came to be and what steps in development it has undergone.
“Our park in Hawaii, under Superintendent Edward G. Wingate, takes its place among the other parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, “Grand Canyon, Mt. Ranier, Crater Lake, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Mesa Verde, Carlsbad Caverns, Shenandoah, Mt. McKinley, and other,” he said.
In governing the park, Mr. Baldwin said, the park staff is concerned with ways and means of preserving its primitive assemblage intact and free as possible from modification and intrusions. Problems in forestry, wildlife and archaeology beset the staff.
A problem in forestry is the existence of many foreign, exotic plants, along with the native plants. The presence of these plants, Mr. Baldwin said, is no doubt accepted without thought by the majority of visitors to the park, yet by the laws under which the park is governed and in fidelity to the spirit in which the park was created as a reservation of primitive Hawaiian character, these exotics as a class do not belong there.
A second great problem in forestry, he said, is the destruction of…
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(Hilo Tribune Herald, 1/23/1944, p. 1)
Death Of Ohia
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…native trees and plants by introduced grazing animals, the most serious of which are the goats. Then there is the well known “trouble makers” in Hawaiian forests, the pig.
Second only to goats is the problem of cattle. Mr. Baldwin said that the promise of much youthful koa growth to replace the ever dying parent trees has had to be delayed longer as a result of the war and the demand for beef. The two years growth on more than 6,000 acres soon disappeared into stomachs of cattle.
“We have learned conclusively,” Mr. Baldwin said, “that in order to perpetuate the koa forest in the Hawaii national park we shall have to exclude cattle from it.”
Insects, fungi and plant diseases each appear in threatening roles from time to time to give concern to the protection staff. Further work is called for on control of the destructive weevil.
Mr. Baldwin, who has conducted research on bird life in the park, suggested that studies be continued.
A bird of singular interest, he said, is the nene, or Hawaiian goose—”a precious remnant of Hawaiian life almost unknown to the majority of people in Hawaii and all but completely disregarded.”
It has for the last 20 years been undergoing its most critical struggle for existence, Mr. Baldwin said. Formerly large flocks existed in many sections of the Big Island and Maui, but now there are so few as 50 individuals left in the wild.
Mr. Baldwin saw the first 27 years of the life of the park as having been devoted to its internal organization, a formulation of problems and goals, and a start toward the solution of the problems.
Mr. Baldwin was introduced by Levi Lyman, program chairman.
James Goodrum was introduced as a visiting Rotarian from Honolulu. Other guests included Lt. Polanski, William F. Goldsmith, chairman of the Big Island war finance committee; Fred H. Kanne, chairman of the territorial war finance committee; and William Hanifin, executive manager of the committee.
Frank Cook, secretary of the club who has been on the mainland, was welcomed home.
Alfred H. Green, chairman of the Big Island Fourth War Loan Drive, reported on the “kickoff” of the drive, the work and the enthusiasm with which he said it has been made.
(Hilo Tribune Herald, 1/23/1944, p. 4)