Preserving Paradise: Conservation Efforts in Maui’s Upcountry

Posted by Island Sotheby's International Realty on Tuesday, May 14th, 2024 at 8:25am


Maui is celebrated not only for its stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage but also for its unique biodiversity. Highlighting the vibrant conservation efforts that preserve the ecological wonders of Maui’s upcountry regions showcases the commitment to ecological preservation.

From the majestic Nēnē bird to the lush landscapes of Kula, conservation here is a celebration of community and commitment to sustainability, reflecting a deep-rooted respect for nature. By exploring these efforts, it’s clear to see how the local initiatives enrich our communities, maintaining harmony between growth and the natural world.

In the heart of Makawao, The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project (MFBRP) plays a vital role in the revival of Maui’s cherished native forest bird. Their efforts to conserve these native birds tie into deep historical ties Hawaiians have to these birds, most famously seen throughout the traditional feather work used in royal cloaks, helmets, and leis.  

One of the projects central to the MFBRP's mission is the protection of the Kiwikiu (Maui Parrotbill), a bird once prevalent across Maui and Moloka'i but now limited to a small portion of East Maui’s lush rainforest. The reduction in their habitat, contributing to their reduction in numbers, was primarily due to past changes in land use and the introduction of non-native species. The project tackles these challenges by restoring the bird's natural habitat, controlling predators, and addressing diseases exacerbated by climate change, such as avian malaria. 

Zach Pezzillo, Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

A key part of the project's work involves monitoring the birds to gather important information about their health and numbers. This is done using techniques that are as minimally invasive as possible, ensuring the birds are quickly and safely released back into their environment. Additionally, advanced mapping tools help the team understand and manage the landscape, guiding everything from planting native seedlings to tracking changes in the forest over time. The survival of the Kiwikiu largely depends on restoring Maui's native forests above 4,500 feet, where there are fewer invasive species and less risk of mosquito-borne diseases. This is accomplished through collecting seeds, planting native seedlings, and controlling invasive species.

Looking ahead, the MFBRP aims to reintroduce the Kiwikiu to areas where the environment has been restored, hopeful that these birds will thrive once again. By revitalizing populations of the Kiwikiu and other native birds, the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project not only preserves the unique species of Maui but also enhances the overall health of the island's ecosystems. This initiative stands as a prime example of how targeted conservation efforts can make a lasting impact, contributing to the ecological and cultural richness of Maui.

Just up the road, The Leeward Haleakalā Watershed Restoration Partnership (LHWRP) is another shining example of Maui's commitment to reviving its breathtaking landscapes and vital ecosystems. This inspiring coalition, formed in 2003 by a diverse group of private and public landowners and supporting agencies, focuses on rejuvenating the southwestern slopes of Haleakalā, covering an impressive 43,175 acres from Makawao through ‘Ulupalakua to Kaupō.

Historically, the lush forest cover on Leeward Haleakalā has dwindled to less than 10%, a loss driven by centuries of overgrazing and invasive species. Today, the LHWRP partnership is turning the tide, transforming these challenges into opportunities for restoration and community involvement. Those involved have contributed with  planting of over 122,000 native seedlings and the creation of thousands of seedballs by local students, rekindling a connection between the community and the land.

The partnership also manages 13.5 miles of protective fences, safeguarding the rejuvenated areas from further damage. These initiatives are crucial in combating the effects of climate change, such as increased fire risks and fluctuations in water supply due to more intense and less frequent rain events.

The LHWRP partnership doesn’t just lead the charge on healing the land but also invites everyone to be a part of this healing process. Through their managing organization, Uhiwai o Haleakala, you can get involved as well. Uhiwai helps collaborate with landowners on leeward Haleakalā to evaluate the landscape and create tailored reforestation plans. In partnership with LHWRP, they aim to restore Maui’s native forests and also unite the community, scientific expertise, and cultural knowledge to offer hands-on experiences, fostering resilience in some of the planet's most precious ecosystems. 

Alternatively, if you're looking for a meaningful and unique way to give back to nature, consider the Adopt-a-Nēnē program, a collaborative effort between Haleakalā National Park and The Friends for the Nene Adoption Project. This program offers a unique opportunity to contribute directly to the preservation of the Nēnē, Hawaii's state bird and an endangered species.

This medium-sized, uniquely adapted goose sports a stylish black color with a distinctive, furrowed neck—unlike its cousin, the Canada Goose. Their webbed feet are specially evolved for strolling across Hawaii's rugged lava terrains. Whether softly mewing or boldly trumpeting, the charismatic Nēnē is loved by its state. Once extinct on Maui, the Nēnē was reintroduced in the 1960s. Now, the island's Nēnē population is slowly recovering, with about 300 birds in Haleakalā National Park and another 200 in West Maui. However, the Nēnē continues to face challenges from habitat loss due to invasive species, predators like mongooses, cats, and rats, and environmental changes that threaten their survival. By adopting a Nēnē, you help fund efforts to protect these birds and their habitats.

Preserving Maui's unique ecosystems is essential for a sustainable future. Initiatives like the above exemplify how community commitment and ecological preservation can coexist harmoniously.

We encourage everyone to get involved, whether by volunteering, participating in educational programs, or simply learning more about Maui's natural heritage. Each step we take together ensures that Maui's beauty and biodiversity thrive for future generations.



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