Wildfire Threats and Mitigation - Puako Forest


An analysis and report

Prepared by: Neil Logan (Integrated Living Systems Design, LLC)

April, 2008



For hundreds of years Puako has been a fishing village.  It is located on a flood plain and high fire threat zone.  The public land areas are presently managed by the DLNR.  Other agencies such as the Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, the West Hawaii Fire Management Organization and the private landowners are involved in helping to develop plans to mitigate the serious threats of fire and floods.

Over the past several decades, this area and the surrounding coast has developed and grown into an upscale community of exclusive resorts and deluxe beach houses.  This has created a conglomeration of “oldtimers” and Kama’aina, who value keeping traditional lifestyles of fishing and surfing, to absentee homeowners who may focus on the value of the real estate and tropical ambiance or prestige of owning a home in this location.

          Also during these decades, as a result of ranching that took place in this area prior to the commercial and community development, Kiawe trees were left alone to grow rampantly into unmanaged thick forests. This unmanaged forest continues to grow and presents serious, well documented threats of fire and flooding that could cause tremendous damage to the real estate and ancient sites in this area.

          In keeping with a desire for safety from fires and flood while maintaining a culturally balanced use of this land, and creating an aesthetically pleasing view, this report provides an explanation of the unmanaged forest situation and its history. Based on my expertise as an ethno-botanist working in this area and studying this forest for several years, I present a carefully balanced and culturally sensitive approach to mitigating threats of fire and flood to this special place.  In addition to this, I provide researched options and opportunities of creating a forest that can thrive with diversity and economic opportunity.


Table of Contents


Kiawe as a species

The Puako Kiawe Forest and Region: Description and History

Land Stewardship

Forest productivity and substance

Threat to Human Life and Property:  Wildfires and floods

Fire Mitigation

Management Strategies

Implementation Strategies: Cost and Schedule                                         

Considerations and Recommendations










A.  Possible Value-added Products from Kiawe (Prosopis pallida)

B. “How to prune a Kiawe tree for fire safety, productivity and long term health of the tree.”

C. Maps




Kiawe as a species


       Kiawe (Prosopis Pallida) is a salt-tolerant, nitrogen-fixing, desert-forest pioneer legume tree brought to Hawaii from Peru in the early 1800s. Its primary use in West Hawaii has been as a shade tree and for animal fodder. According to retired deputy state forester Colonel L.W. Bryan, “Kiawe is the most important and valuable tree ever introduced to the state.” (Esbenshade,1980)

Because Kiawe wood is very dense and of high energy value, (~4,800 kcal/kg = 17,000 Btu/kg) it is an important resource for domestic energy production on the leeward coast of the state, via the process of wood gasification. Additionally, the Kiawe pods have been used throughout ancient history as a food source and have been vital to sustainable agriculture and domestic food security.

Kiawe has the ability to live in saline, arid, tropical deserts where little else can grow.  This, coupled with its non-toxic, human and animal food products, and potent wood producing attributes makes Kiawe a powerful ally for mitigating many global challenges in producing food and creating watershed areas. Kiawe has the ability to forest harsh arid and semi-arid tropical climates while producing food, medicine, building materials and energy for the people who manage those forests. The larger picture of Kiawe is that it brings the possibility of protecting our earth against rapid global warming and providing food in desert areas. This would make reforesting tropical deserts an economically viable endeavor.

Kiawe also has natural medicinal properties.  The seeds of kiawe produce galactomanan gum; a complex sugar that helps reduce diabetes. Diabetes is a major epidemic in Hawaii and the rest of the U.S.A.  Hawai’i could be at the forefront of continued research on the potential of this plant’s medicinal qualities.

Kiawe is considered a non-native and invasive plant by some people. No attempts at complete eradication of Prosopis have ever been successful anywhere. “Trees demolished by chainsaws resprout at their bases, growing back into multi-trunked shrubs” (Nabhan 1987). “Chemicals fail to achieve the complete kills of all Prosopis pests for which they are targeted. Past attempts to eradicate the trees and shrubs without considering the underlying causes for their spread, such as selective advantage over non-N fixers on impoverished sites, have usually led to reestablishment of dense stands” (Felker and Patch 2005). What is observed in Hawai’i is that the Kiawe is slow to spread on its own, usually owing most of its dispersal through cattle dung.

That is why ridding the islands of Kiawe is not a viable option.  However, it has been shown that it can be used to nurture native Hawaiian forest trees that are almost extinct.  It is now one of the few suitable nitrogen fixing host trees on the leeward coast capable of nursing young native sandalwood (Iliahi) trees below the 2000’ elevation. The leeward coast contains some of Hawaii’s most endangered ecosystems and the Kiawe could be used to enhance and rejuvenate these ecosystems.

Kiawe prefers water to come from underground because rain is destructive to its flowers and fruits. Experiments have been performed to determine optimal irrigation rates for Prosopis spp. Generally, it appears that Kiawe will send its roots directly into water and extract what it needs. Growth like what is seen in Puakō may be due to its access to unlimited water and abundant nutrition.





The Puako Kiawe Forest and region: description and history


The Puako Kiawe forest and is located at the base of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai. It is also located to some degree, according to watershed, at the base of the Kohala Mountain. The nearby Kīholo lava plane rises up creating a large swale parallel to the coast. Puako receives less than 10” of rain annually. Mean temperature is greater than 76F. According to the Puako Historical Society, at one time Lehua, Kou, ‘Iliahi and Heau sandalwoods, Curly Koa, Hala and other native and endemic plants, trees and foliage comprised the forest along the shores of Puakō.

Wind patterns are diurnal. Onshore winds from mid morning to before sunset and cool westerly winds sink down the mountain at night. Wind velocity is usually 7-8 mph but high winds do occur. Puako is roughly 40’ above sea level. Three drainage ways flow into the site = Kamakoa gulch, unnamed gulch and Auwaiakeakua Gulch. It is within the 100 yr flood zone and the tsunami zone. The soil is a very fine sandy loam alluvial referred to as “Waikii Silty Loam”, arriving via the Kamakoa gulch.

          This district was also formerly (and to some degree still is) a Hawaiian fishing village within the Ahupua’a of Lalamilo and Kalāhuipua’a. The reef off shore was known as a good territory for harvesting octopus or He’e. There was ample fresh water in the area to allow human settlement and the anchioline ponds along the shore allowed the raising of baitfish and pronds. People harvested “Limu” (seaweed) and the “Auwai” (irrigation ditches) enabled the cultivation of dry land taro and sweet potatoes.  According to anthropological survey, the historic William Ellis (Waimea uplands from Puakō to Waikoloa) and Ala Kahakai (Puakō to Napu’u) trails also pass through this area. Furthermore, there are ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs on lava in the region and at least one burial site is known (reference).

Parker Ranch, at one time the largest sustainable cattle ranch operation in the United States, used Kiawe pods as supplemental cattle fodder to fatten up cattle for market. By way of alimentary transport via cow dung, trees quickly spread throughout all of the main inhabited Hawaiian islands. This Big Island fishing village of Puakō became an important site for cattle to graze and fatten on Kiawe pods in the summer months when there was little other available forage.


Situated immediately off shore to Puakō are world reknown class AA water and coral reefs that provide critical environmental elements for survival of primary feeders and reef life that are the bases of the oceanic food chain. This fact alone has been acknowledged and has received consideration for protection by county and state agencies.

Puakō is a unique site for the leeward coast of the Big Island.  Due to its location it is a flood plain that has brought soil down from the mountain creating rich conditions for agriculture. The soil has been measured as deep as 30-50 feet in some places before reaching the 5,000-year-old lava flow below (eight feet is said to be the shallowest of soils in Puakō) (Thevine 2006). Also, the site has a water table within four feet below the surface in some places (Shumate 2006).

Sugar cane was once grown on a commercial scale in Puakō, hence the English / Hawaiian Dictionary denotes its name: Pua = flower and Kō is the Hawaiian word for sugar cane. The area was once flood irrigated but the mauka deforestation that occurred in the late 1800’s, largely during the sandalwood trade, resulted in a decrease of water running beneath the surface and an increase in the intensity and frequency of periodic floods.

In addition to this, the Waimea stream was diverted to bring water to Puakō circa 1914.  However, this attempt failed shortly after its completion. Generations of logging sandalwood in the mountains had destroyed the watershed and altered the climate. The salty soils precipitated an impenetrable crust on the soil. When the mill closed other crops and farming was attempted.  Crops such as Alfalfa & Guinea Grass, corn, sweet potatoes, Hawaiian tobacco, cotton, mustard cabbage, tomatoes, coffee and watermelon were grown with varying rates of success, but no large scale operations ever seemed to take root.

Most crops had and still have a difficult time growing in Puako since sugar cane because the irrigation caused salt deposits in arid land which, in turn, made the soil inhospitable to most conventional crops. However, Solinaceaous plants like peppers and tomatoes are still known to grow well in Puakō. Kiawe is extremely salt tolerant and thrives in the deep bottomland soils of flood planes with access to abundant subterranean water. Now, water still flows down from Mauna Kea and ends up in Puakō. Water flows constantly under the Puakō Kiawe forest at a rate of 3.0-7.0 mgd per coastal mile.

          Robert Hind is credited with the genesis of Kiawe at Puako. Founder trees were planted as windbreak in the early 1900’s while Puako was a sugar cane field. Sugar failed in Puako due to salted soils but Kiawe continued to thrive. Cattle spread the Kiawe seeds throughout Puakō creating the present day 1000+ acre forest.  Cattle could move through Puakō and drink from brackish water and get fat on Kiawe pods. The company would fatten steers before shipping them to market from Kawaihae


Since then, this region is no longer part of the ranching business but other businesses such as organic honey farming has developed. Bees were brought to Puako to enhance pollination thereby increasing the bean crop. Puakō is unique and unusually productive producing flowers heavy with nectar (Spiegel, 2004). In the late 30’s, the Ichiro & Yukie Goto began to produce “Gotos” Honey. Honey started at the time of the closing of the sugar mill and continued until the late 1960’s. By late 1941 they loaded 1000 containers of honey to export marking the peak of their honey production.


Presently, there are several significant agricultural and botanical endeavors.  Organic Honey production has been the most successful use of the land since Kiawe replaced sugar production. The Puako Kiawe Forest is considered a Terroir or special site for the production of unique products, in this case the pure kiawe honey. Fence posts and firewood have also been extracted throughout this time, with and without permission from land owners.  There is also a diverse collection of coconuts which have grown for decades around Wailea Bay and Puakō.


A private company that performs security services for the Mauna Lani also provides a non-profit landscape service growing a large coconut orchard fed by the Manua Lani effluent treatment wastewater. The coconuts are grown on a rotation and transplanted at a certain age as landscape trees in the resort. This organization also recycles the green waste and transforms it into high quality compost. This demonstrates the viability of several concepts with regards to the Puakō forest project (explained below): 1) nutrient recycling of effluent water and green waste 2) growing coconuts on site for bee forage and inter-crop co-products.


Puakō has always been rough terrain subject to the whims of nature. Puakō ‘Olauniu winds frequently gust up to 55 mph. There is also evidence that there have been tsunamis, which were responsible for much of the sand in the forest. Major storms occur bringing large surf washing through the ocean front properties.  These elements limit many agricultural and business activities.

The Hind family dug six wells during the development of the plantation. Two of the wells were used recently for the Mauna Lani Resort, which incorporated the brackish water for irrigation of the golf course. There is also excellent water and a well on private land higher up which use gravity to bring the water down. This water is very pure and fresh with low chlorides.


Land Stewardship

Puako was always a fishing village.  Positive long-term land management strategies must be implemented to maintain the cultural integrity of this historic region and protect it. Modern purchases of the land have been made from ceded Hawaiian lands.  Large land ownership has changed over time and most of the present companies focus on developing this area as an upscale resort and luxury residential district.

The public portion of the Puakō Kiawe forest is approximately 755 acres in size. This parcel is sandwiched in between private lands: the residences to the west and Kiawe forest to the east, which rises up to the highway. The private land is owned by an organization that has plans to build a golf course. The golf course is proposed to be developed on the eastern portion of the forest up to the highway. This controversial idea has many barriers.

First, the golf course would need at least 150 acres for 18 holes. This would be a significant reduction of the Kiawe forest and may threaten the organic status of the honey production depending on how the management group decides to manage the golf course. Another threat to the forest posed by the proposed golf course is the reorientation of the natural flood irrigation system and the alteration of the hydrology of the site. If a golf course is built in this area it will entail a lot of diversion of natural systems and the creation of manmade systems to manage the water flow from the mountain, in order to keep the periodic flooding from damaging the course. This diversion could completely cut the forest from its water source lifeline and reduce or eliminate the natural percolation of fresh water that enhances the water quality and reef life into this area. Some have speculated that the golf course is not realistic economically or environmentally.


Puako Productivity – forest types vs. yield


Large, highly productive trees growing in deep soil, with their roots in water under the surface, characterize approximately 250 acres of the public portion of the Puakō Kiawe forest. At least another 50+ acres of this size exists on adjacent privately owned lands, comprising a total of approximately 300 acres. Puako has high levels of non-organic nitrogen, possibly uptaken by the trees, which may contribute to its rapid growth rates. The forest helps to maintain existing nutrient balance. There is more land with deep soil available locally but it is not currently covered with Kiawe.

Smaller trees of lower biomass productivity and lower-value lumber dominate the rest of the forest. Presently, organic honey is the largest business in this area and, in these sized stands, is of high quality but low productivity. Kiawe pod yields are also low. Generally, these kinds of woody stands are probably best managed as fuel-wood or microclimates for native forest restoration. Noise pollution is also buffered by the forest

The challenge with working with these areas of small dense trees is that they are on top of the hard lava flow and are located on top of ancient Hawaiian burial sites. Petroglyphs are also found on top of the lava in this area. These are sensitive cultural sites that need to be protected both from alteration by humans and Kiawe. No mechanical equipment is allowed on the lava here, so no mechanized harvesting can occur. Humans with chainsaws can go into these areas and clear the sites but this will be laborious and expensive, and it will be difficult to reduce the fuel loads without chippers nearby. This scenario of forest management characterizes most of the Puakō Kiawe forest.

Champion Trees

Puakō also retains some of Hawaii’s “Champion Trees” or largest Kiawe trees in the state. It is a Kiawe situated on the makai side of the road near the old Goto residence. This tree stands over 100 feet high and has a straight trunk that does not fork until at least 10 feet up and is also nearly thornless. It has been recommended that the tree be named “Goto’s” Kiawe after the Goto family who pioneered honey production in Puakō. Trees like “Goto’s Kiawe” are rare and unique, not just at Puakō but also throughout the state and the world. Trees like this one need to be propagated and studied. 

Other trees of this size were more common in Puakō and stumps large enough for five people to stand around have been found deep in the forest. Puakō is an ideal environment for Kiawe to flourish and it has expressed itself fully there. It would be wise to protect the genetics of these trees and propagate their unique qualities for use in local landscape projects, biofuel production and reforestation projects abroad.


Wildfire Threat to Human Life and Property


This forest is not only an important resource for the community, but has the potential to develop as a “test lab” for global reforestation and fire mitigation efforts.  This forest buffers harsh dry winds, protects the coral reef from runoff and receiving high nutrient loads in the underground aquifer. Due to minimal management efforts, fuel loads have built up to dangerous levels and floods regularly spill across the forest into the residential community causing property damage. Using an integrated management approach, it will be possible to turn this forest from a problem into a viable solution to these threats.


Over many decades of neglect, a dense canopy of Kiawe trees has formed. Management efforts to curb this overgrowth have been minimal at best, especially in light of the fire hazard this poses to several neighboring luxury resorts and upscale residential homes. The amount of energy embodied in the wood of this forest is roughly equal to 33.7 Hiroshima bombs.


Serious fire outbreaks have occurred many times in the last three decades, most notably the fire of 1987, in which 6 homes were lost and an additional million dollars in property damage.  This area is threatened annually by wild fires. There are presently approximately 200 homes in the Puako neighborhood and it is growing daily according to the Puako Community Association. Present fire-fuel loads are at dangerous levels. A fire mitigation program needs to be implemented immediately in order to address the issue and ensure the protection of property and lives.


The current fire protection strategy focuses on the maintenance of escape roads and fuel breaks. However, clearing recreates perfect conditions for the germination and growth of more Kiawe seedlings. Soon, dense stands of young trees grow and present a greater fire hazard than a few large trees scattered at wide spacing.

Fuel loads in the forest both on the ground and “ladder fuels”, foliage around the base of the tree and low branches, leading into the crown are a major concern. This must first be removed or reduced in order to minimize out-of-control wild fires where a crown fire occurs. If the fuel loads are reduced (not eliminated) the fire danger is minimized. The best way to do this is to keep the larger trees, thin out the smaller ones, and remove all ladder fuels. The canopy is lifted up so that a ground fire (mostly grass) will pass below and not move into the crown. This kind of fire is more easily controlled and extinguished whereas a large crown fire paired with the frequent strong winds in this area, would very likely be able to jump a fuel break of any size in Puakō.  

As mentioned, the forest has received minimal attention for management and maintenance. Access ways for fire trucks have been bulldozed and in doing so enormous ladder fuels, in the form of burmed, dead, dry trees, have been created. Dry fountain and Buffel grasses create a perimeter that leads right up to the edge of the forest where they come in contact with ladder fuels forming the genesis of a crown fire.  Once in the crown the fire can easily spread from crown to crown in the high winds with plenty of fuel. Crown fires are usually the most distructive and difficult to stop.  Members of the South Kohala and Waikoloa fire departments have commented that a major fire event in the Puako Kiawe forest would most like require all of the fire fighting resources of this island and possibly more. 


If the forest was lost to a major fire event, there is a high probability that the ash from it would find its way onto homes and into the reef as airborne particulates. Any ash left on the ground would most likely be washed towards homes and onto the reef during subsequent flood events.   These floods would also be more devastating due to the loss of flood buffering that currently occurs in the forest.


It is recommended that one unified management organization be formed that will manage the Puakō Kiawe forest in total for the purpose of fire safety for the community.


Forest Management: an overview

The Puako forest is divided into private and publicly controlled parcels, each approximately 500 acres in size. The most productive acres (biomass) within the DLNR (public) area closest to the ocean and Puakō residential community. About 300 acres of the public area contain trees 40-60’ tall with large canopies that fuse to form one large, mostly closed, canopy. The remaining 700 acres (200 public and 500 private) are characterized by dense stands of trees 10 – 50’ tall.

A fire mitigation program would effectively clean the understory of all fuel loads and prune the trees up so that ground fire would pass beneath. The ground is covered in most areas by Buffel grass and Fountain grasses, which become dry and brown – the most likely vector for pyrogenesis. By clearing the understory it becomes possible to move freely beneath the canopy enabling the harvest of pods and develop the diversification efforts, including propagation of native forest plants.

Research has demonstrated that the optimal density for Prosopis is approximately 41 trees per acre or 100 trees per hectare. This spacing would allow for the full expression of an adult tree form. Tall trees with shallow root systems are prone to windfall. Pruning the trees down (topping) will help to “tighten” the canopy and balance the symmetry of the tree so that it is not top heavy. This would also concentrate the energy of the tree facilitating increased productivity per tree, decreasing water usage and liberating more organic matter into the system.

Creating a Living Fire Break of succulent plants would be the most efficient and environmentally sound approach over the long term to help control the re-growth of Kiawe trees along the fuel breaks and squelch ground fires. The forest could then be managed to produce agricultural crops as a means to offset the cost of maintenance.

Firebreak and Flood Mitigation: Critique of current strategy

            The current firebreak system is expensive, must be repeated regularly, yet it minimally mitigates the real threat of wildfires destroying this area. It is not very effective because Kiawe is a rapid colonizer of barren land. Any plot of land that has been scraped and left uncovered by vegetation, and is hot and sunny, is the perfect situation for Kiawe.

Its ecological role is to pioneer land that has been ravaged by fire, lava or other disaster that leaves land barren. Kiawe moves in, utilizes its nitrogen fixation capacity to literally grow out of thin air where no soil currently exists. With time, the Kiawe will create shade, drop leaf litter and wood, thereby increasing humidity and rotting – perfect conditions for the creation of soil. Once soil is established, new plants can grow and successively overtake the Kiawe. This occurs after a large wind blows a Kiawe tree over. More sunlight through the canopy allows something nearby to flourish and overgrow the Kiawe. Once Kiawe itself is shaded, its growth slows down and it will eventually die, rot and move out of the system. However, its seeds have proven to be viable in the soil for up to 50 years or more, waiting for the moment when catastrophe strikes and the trees are needed to heal the soil once more.

          Every time the bulldozer moves through the forest it brings with it catastrophe and leaves in its wake the perfect conditions for Kiawe to quickly sprout up and do its job of “healing the soil.” This is why the current firebreak regime will continue to create a cycle of high cost, low results mitigation. A holistic, environmental and culturally aware approach to the situation will address the needs of the soil and honor Kiawe’s role in the ecosystem, which includes aiding restoration of native plants and diversified agriculture.


Studies have demonstrated that the way to control Kiawe from spreading is to select large trees and cut out the rest. The large trees will flourish as they fill out and occupy the space that was formerly occupied by many smaller trees. Succulent plants and actively cultivated fruits and vegetables will shade out seedlings as well. Therefore, firebreaks will consist of a fewer large trees with a lifted canopy. Below the canopy, succulent ground covers, native fire resistant plants and food crops will grow. Animal (sheep/pigs) can be used to reduce pods and dry grass ladder fuels.




The Puako forest is located in a flood plane. The flood waters used to be captured in swales and ditches that transported the water north and south across the forest preventing most of the water from ever reaching the residences in the west. These swales have not been  maintained, so periodic flooding to neighboring resorts and residential homes has occurred several times over the last few decades. Until an effective flood mitigation program is implemented, it is inevitable that flooding will occur again.


Water enters the forest from at least 3 drainage tunnels that cross below the Queen’s highway. The largest flow occurs at the northern most entry zone and tends to move quickly across the forest with 2 foot sheets of water carrying debris into the Puako residential community and has caused damage to property on the Mauka side of the Puako road in the past. The flooding also crosses the road causing damage to property on the Makai side and often ends up in the Puako bay on top of the coral reef. Research has shown that the silt and debris are destructive to the reef.


The aquifer can contain high nutrient loads - especially nitrogen. Kiawe is known to tap the underground water source and efficiently remove the nitrogen from the water and use it as food for growth. Loss of the trees to fire would remove the tree root nitrogen filtration and lead to higher nitrogen levels in the water that ultimately ends up in the reef. High nitrogen levels are implicated in algae blooms which are known to suffocate the coral and kill it. These floodwaters can be captured and spread across the forest where it would be soaked up like a sponge feeding the forest while being filtered before reaching the aquifer and reef.



Flood Mitigation

The water from heavy rains need to be managed to spread evenly across the forest via a series of swales that run perpendicular to the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway as it was done in the past. Original flood mitigation designs captured the water and dispersed it evenly over the land in ditches that run parallel to the highway. The latest flood mitigation strategy captures the water and focuses it in a flume that pushes it down the road through the forest and out across the Puakō residence road into the bay. This method is not functional for the forest, the residences, or the reef. To protect the reef and homes, the former system should be reinstated. Gabion baskets and or living flood and firebreaks can also be established to capture flood silt, decrease the force of flood waters and disperse it throughout the forest.

The Solution


To resolve this situation, we have to remember the history of Puakō to date. First, lava past through Puakō 5,000 years ago creating the flow that resides deep beneath the soil. The Hawaiians landed and altered the land as needed to survive and make home there. After that came sugar cane and salted soil. After sugar cane came the cattle and the introduction of Kiawe. The Kiawe tree’s role is to help the soil heal by keeping it covered, increasing moisture and fertility so new life can emerge and eventually replace the kiawe.

         The treatise, Kiawe—Swaying in the Breeze, by ethno-botanist /field researcher Neil Logan, outlines the need for a more symbiotic approach for a well-managed Puako Kiawe forest that will benefit the surrounding luxury resort and residents, emphasizing the vast potential resources that could be developed and sustained from the Kiawe forest—i.e. fence posts, firewood, honey, human and animal food from pods, medicinal extracts, edible mushrooms, feedstock for electricity, which to this day has been largely untapped.

          Additionally, if managed correctly, the forest could provide local food security, organic medicines, domestic bio-energy, organic honey and watershed protection. 

Potential crops, uses include:


1) Produce enough revenue per acre to return the land to “value-added, multi-use sustainable native forest in perpetuity.

2) Regenerate and diversify local industry.

3) Support sustainable solutions to social challenges through education and hands-on service-learning opportunities

4) Produce enough clean domestic bio-energy to meet and exceed the products production system requirements

5) Sequester atmospheric carbon

6) Support sustainable food security

7) Increase Bio-diversity, including the introduction of fire-resistant species

8) Protect the watershed and reef via proper forest management.

9) Sustain fire-safe forests for open space, while protecting the reef, water shed and community.

10) Develop and demonstrate a sustainable system that is exportable to other sites and cultures – using Puakō as a “living laboratory.”


It may cost $30 million or more to clean the forest up and make it fire safe. An economically viable way to do this is through the sustainable production of value added forest products (resulting as byproducts of the fire mitigation program) that will help pay for the management of the forest. Companies in Hawaii and the United States mainland have been contacted and immediate markets exist to purchase all the products (lumber, honey, pod flour) from the Puakō Kiawe forest. The long-term economic forecast predicts the sale of products over time will greatly offset the costs and the forest would remain as open space while being maintained in a state of maximum fire safety. A not-for-profit status might be more attractive from a practical perspective. The forest will begin to generate revenue in the first month of the fire mitigation program via the sale of forest products.


First, an integrated forest management plan must address the fire and flood issues. The raw materials for the production of value-added products (electricity, food, honey, etc.) naturally evolve from the fire mitigation process. The creation of a fire-and-flood safe forest creates a foundation upon which   larger issues of watershed management, carbon sequestration, coral reef protection, local protection from climactic extremes, global warming, regional food security, clean domestic energy production are responsibly implemented, not only for the benefit of the present citizen-stakeholders, but for future generations to come.


“The proper management of the Kiawe forest is a win-win situation. Initially, the state would probably have to finance the cutting, mulching, and the charcoal industry. A percentage of the charcoal, fence post, mulch, honey, and Kiawe beans would eventually more than repay the capital outlay needed to start this process” (Luce 2006).


VII) Conclusion: Considerations and Recommendations



*Secure state-permitted forest management privileges. The majority of the forest is on state land and will therefore require permission to perform fire mitigation activities. Additional permits may be required for value-added product production.


*Remove ladder fuels and establish firebreaks. The removal of any and all woody debris either lying on the ground or suspended in a tree is critical to minimizing fire danger as these fuels catalyze hotter fires that can move into the crown and perpetuate more fire. Fuel breaks create an interuption in the growing fire so that the fire may be slowed and or stopped.


*Manage towards scattered tall trees (stand management, thinning, etc.) It has been found that large trees on wide spacing help to minimize the growth of new seedlings. Kiawe is a shade intolerant tree so the shade cast by large trees tends to significantly reduce the numbers and density of more fire prone smaller trees.


*Clear firebreaks and access ways. In the event of a fire it will be necessary to access the forest with fire fighting equipment. Firebreaks and access ways will be large enough to allow such equipment to navigate the entire forest.


*Incorporate fire-resistant native plants. Native plants have adapted to local conditions. They display resistance to fire and require less maintenance and resources than do exotic plants.


*Implement flood prevention measures.  Flood prevention measures have focused on capturing flood waters into swales and ditches that run perpendicular to the flow and spread the water out evenly throughout the forest where it is soaked up like a sponge by the forest before reaching the community.


*Use grazing to reduce/maintain low fuel loads. Grazing in appropriate areas is an inexpensive way to keep grass fuels minimized.


*Implement Living Firebreaks. Perimeters and borders of succulent plants act as living barriers for the containment of grazing animals and help to squelch ground fires preventing them from climbing ladder fuels into the trees.


*Manage for thorn-free varieties with sweet tasting pods. A correlation has been observed between sweetness of pods and thronlessness. Sweet pods usually have a better flavor and thronless varieties are easier to work with.


*Generate funds from forest products to pay for management. Raw materials for the production of value-added products will evolve from the fire mitigation activities. 


*Encourage/support diverse research on kiawe forest management. Kiawe has many beneficial attributes, which need further development. The Puako forest is a kind of living laboratory that can offer opportunities to learn more about this special tree. This knowledge will be useful in other situations where kiawe occurs.


*Manage for sustainable production of ecosystem services. The kiawe forest at Puako is buffering the harsh winds and sun as well as filtering the aquifer below before it reaches the reef. The forest provides habitat for non-native species with the potential to provide a suitable microclimate for the re-establishment of indigenous flora.


































A:  Possible Value-Added Products from Kiawe (Prosopis pallida)

1)    Lumber
2)    Firewood
3)    Mushrooms
4)    Pod Flour (Mesocarp)
5)    Seed Gum
6)    Seed Protein Concentrate (Aquaculture Food)
7)    Ethyl Alcohol (USP)
8)    Ethyl Alcohol (Biofuel)
9)    Woody Biomass (Biofuel Gasification Technology)
10)  Honey
11)  Tempeh
12)  Coconuts
13)  Bio-energy Intercrops
14)  Living Firebreak CSA
15)  Compost
16)  Mulch
17)  Nursery (Elite clones, airlayers, etc.)
18)  Propolis
19)  Pollen
20)  Mead
21)   Education/Ecotourism
22)   Aquaculture
23)   Animal Products


B: “How to prune a kiawe for fire safety, productivity and long-term health of the tree.”

          Kiawe trees often grow in harsh conditions with little soil and water and lots of wind. For this reason they die back during times of drought leaving dead branches that can be fire hazards. When growing in deep soil with ample water, the trees have a tendency to grow tall and in windy conditions this leaves them susceptible to being blown over which also creates a fire hazard. For these reasons it is essential to care for kiawe trees for fire safety and long-term health. Studies have demonstrated that regular pruning enhances flower and pod production. Below are some simple guidelines for pruning kiawe trees with a diagram and example of a well-pruned kiawe tree.


* Prune away all dead wood on the tree. Hanging dead branches or dead tips will need to be removed.

* Prune all side branches up to 10’ and select for one single, straight trunk when ever possible.

* Top the tree as needed (if it is in a windy site) to create a balanced symmetry.

* Chip all the wood from prunings and return it to the tree as mulch around the base. (This will help keep the grasses back if the mulch layer is thick enough.)

            In this way the fire danger has been minimized. The efficient use of water and nutrient resources for the tree is maximized. The tree has the best opportunity to withstand fire and wind threats.


Tree Pruning Dimensions

Well Pruned Kiawe Tree



C: Maps

Map of Puako Region

Kiawe Forest

*Maps Courtesy of DLNR 2006











C: References


Bergin, Dr. Billy Loyal to the Land University of Hawaii Press, Date?


Esbenshade, H. W. (1980) Kiawe: a tree crop in Hawaii. International Tree Crops Journal 1:125-130.


Felker, Peter and Patch, Nancy Managing Coppice, Sapling, and Mature Prosopis For Firewood, Poles, and Lumber and Center for Semi-Arid Forest Resources Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute Kingsville, Texas 78363, PDF file Accessed on the web 2005.


Logan, Neil (2007) Swaying in the Breeze:  A Comprehensive Guide to the Management of Kiawe (Prosopis pallida) in Hawaii. pp. 150 unpublished.


Luce, Allen (2006) Personal Communication.


Nabhan, G. P. (1987) Gathering the Desert, University of Arizona Press pgs 61-74


Paris, William (2006) Personal Communication.


Pasiecznik, N.M., Felker, P., Harris, P.J.C., Harsh, L.N., Cruz, G., Tewari, J.C., Cadoret, K. and Maldonado, L.J. (2001) The Prosopis juliflora - Prosopis pallida Complex: A Monograph. HDRA, Coventry, UK. pp.172.


Puakö Historical Society Affectionate History of Puako, 2000.


Shumate, Jerry (2006) Personal Communication.


Spiegel, Richard. 2004. Puakō Kiawe Forest Apiary pgs 2-30.


Thevine, Leon (2006) Personal Communication.