Kawaihae is quickly becoming a hub of Firewise activities. Kohala-By-The-Sea has been a certified community every year since 2004! Honokoa, formerly Kailapa, became the first Hawaiian homestead to receive Firewise recognition for the efforts last year. Word is spreading like wildfire and now Kohala Waterfront, directly across from Kohala-By-The-Sea and just northwest of Honokoa, could be certified this year. HWMO’s Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett, met with residents on March 23 to familiarize them on the Firewise application process. With Hawaii Fire Department prevention officials on hand, the small group visited an area of concern and brainstormed ideas for wildfire risk reduction projects.
Each year, wildfire professionals from across the nation and even from other countries gather in Reno for the Wildland Urban Interface Conference sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs. HWMO and its partners from Hawaii Fire Department and Guam Department of Agriculture Forestry and Soil Resources Division were represented at this year’s event from March 19-23. HWMO’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Pablo Beimler, spent several days in Nevada with the snowy slopes of Lake Tahoe punctuating the landscape. The Peppermill Resort played host to the event where several hundred firefighters, outreach specialists, scientists, planners, conservationists, insurance professionals, and others with a stake in wildfire protection gathered. During the first two days, Pablo took part in a workshop held by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security FEMA National Fire Academy. The workshop covered various strategies for developing Fire Adapted Communities, including many that HWMO has been implementing in Hawaii. A major theme throughout the workshop and the rest of the conference was the need for “shared responsibility” to tackle wildfire issues. It indeed takes a village — all stakeholders must play a role in wildfire protection.
The conference itself was filled with amazing networking opportunities and speakers. The Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network staff invited outreach and prevention specialists from across the nation to take part in various activities and get-togethers forging new partnerships and learning opportunities. HWMO is now connected to specialists from California to Colorado to Montana to Idaho to New Mexico to the East Coast…the list goes on! It was not all business — there were fun and games…literally. Many of the learning network members hit the arcades on the first night and, as a collaborative effort, won enough tickets for the grand prize: a new tiger mascot for the group!
Presentations and workshops covered a wide array of topics: Fire Adapted Communities, Fire Learning Exchanges, SimTable demonstrations, Fire Operations in the Swamp, a Presidential Transition and What it Means to the Wildland Fire Community, and more. Lessons learned from the Fort McMurray and Blue Cut fires were shared by those who led suppression efforts during the harrowing experiences. WUI 2017 was an incredible event and HWMO is extremely grateful for being a part of it this year. We thank IAFC for the opportunity to be ambassadors for this year’s conference.
HWMO and PFX collaborated to offer a half-day workshop at the PRIMO conference on March 20 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, Oahu. The workshop was entitled Wildland Fire Risk Mitigation Strategies for Pacific Islands and included an overview of strategies, tools, and resources for assessing risk and determining priority areas for wildfire protection activities.
As peak wildfire season approaches, HWMO is committed to reach out to as many people as possible statewide about wildfire readiness. With stacks of Ready, Set, Go! guides, Firewise plant bookmarks, Wildfire Prep Day info, and Firewise Communities brochures on hand, Community Outreach Coordinator, Pablo Beimler, traveled to various parts of Oʻahu and Maui to present wildfire readiness information. From March 7 to March 9, Pablo visited Rotary Clubs of Diamond Head/Kaimuki, Kahala Sunrise, West Pearl Harbor, and Wailuku. In total, 57 Rotarians were reached out to, some of whom have followed up with HWMO about possible partnerships in the future.
On March 14 at Tutu’s House in Waimea, with a small group in attendance, Pablo gave a more in-depth Ready, Set, Go! wildfire readiness workshop. A couple Puʻu Kapu residents were intrigued by the presentation and were inspired to bring information back to the community and generate support for Firewise Community certification. On the last day of the tour, March 15, Pablo gave a presentation about Ready, Set, Go!, Firewise Communities, and Wildfire Prep Day to over 30 members of the Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Readiness Team (including keiki) (banner photo). As a result of the talk, several members were interested in linking up with HWMO and the local Waiʻanae Library to start a Firewise demo garden around the library perimeter.
Mahalo to all who invited us to speak and who listened in. We hope we have given you enough tools to take action in your community right away!
For the casual passer-by during the winter, the rolling green hills of Waikiʻi Ranch may strike them as an area free of wildfire threats. However, over the past several years, Waikiʻi Ranch has had numerous close calls with wildfires that have burned in and around the subdivision. The subdivision is exposed on each side by large tracts of unmanaged grass and shrublands prone to ignition from starts along neighboring roads and highways.
On March 6, HWMO teamed up with Hawaiʻi Fire Department and Waikiʻi Ranch HOA to conduct a Firewise hazard assessment for Waikiʻi. The group first met at the community clubhouse to discuss what it takes for a community to become Firewise certified. As a major first step towards certification, the a few members of the group drove to various points of interest within the community. Some of the major wildfire hazards that struck our attention included the many dead trees along the edges of roads and fencelines, piles of wood underneath tree canopies, and large expanses of unmanaged grass and shrublands surrounding homes and the greater Waikiʻi area.
The association has been allocating some of their funds and resources towards Firewise improvements already. Most notably, the community has herds of cows, goats, and sheep that are used to graze easements along the perimeters of properties and the subdivision boundary. As more and more people in Waikiʻi join the Firewise efforts, the community will hopefully become another shining example in Hawaiʻi and a part of a statewide collaborative, grassroots movement for communities to take fire readiness into their own hands.
Pacific Fire Exchange (PFX) continued to ramp up its ongoing effort to connect researchers and managers with a field tour of Puʻu Waʻawaʻa on Saturday, February 25. DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) played host to over 35 participants, many of whom were involved in the conservation field in Hawaiʻi, including HWMO representatives, but even some who were just curious to learn more about the preserve and native dryland forests. The PFX Field Tour was a follow-up to the Nāhelehele Dry Forest Symposium, which was held the day before in Kailua-Kona.
The tour kicked off at the Puʻu Waʻawaʻa Baseyard where hundreds of new native plant keiki were housed. After exploring the nursery, the group caravanned up to the Puʻu Waʻawaʻa Cinder Cone summit for a spectacular view of Hualālai, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and the lands and ocean below it. Although the vog was particularly thick that day, we could still make out the outlines of the breathtaking giants that loomed over the cinder cone. Leilā Dudley, who works at the preserve with DOFAW, told an animated moʻolelo (history, tradition) about the connections between the place names and the people tied to them in North Kona. Clay Trauernicht, Co-Coordinator of PFX, shed light on the importance of understanding these stories in order to discuss proper management of these lands and the motivations behind the restoration and preservation of them. Puʻu Waʻawaʻa is the most diverse forest in Hawaiʻi and there are endless reasons for protecting and restoring the area. Wildfire has been a major driver of change for Puʻu Waʻawaʻa, and thus, the theme of the day was how to manage the landscape to keep wildfires at bay.
At the next stop, the Waihou Exclosure, Elliott Parsons, DOFAW, gave background on the large koa restoration plot in the upper reaches of the forest preserve. Chris Wada, University of Hawaiʻi, entered the conversation with an economic analyses on the prioritization of areas for restoration in order to reduce landscape flammability and restore groundwater recharge. Lunch soon followed at the cool and misty Forest Bird Sanctuary (indeed, the chorus of bird songs was a highlight). HWMO’s Pablo Beimler shared a brief history of the organization’s work in the area — Puʻu Waʻawaʻa and its wildfire issues helped spur the creation of HWMO in the early 2000’s. Much of the lessons we had learned in Puʻu Waʻawaʻa are what we continue to carry with us as we expand our work statewide and into the Western Pacific.
After lunch, the group stopped at the 25 Mile Marker Road overlook to talk about valuation of landscapes and elevation gradients. We stopped midway down the final stretch of road to the highway to examine a stand of lama trees, Hawaiian persimmons that are endemic to Hawaiʻi. The plot the group stopped to look at was overgrown with dense and flammable grasses and shrubs, as well as invasive silver oaks. To contrast this plot, DOFAW led us to the final stop at the Kīpuka Oweowe dry forest restoration site. There, the tour participants gathered and then wandered off to explore the many native dryland plant delights. Careful and persistent management of fire fuels (mostly fountain grass) on the aʻaʻ lava flow, along with hours upon hours of volunteer help, has led to a thriving native forest reflective of what once covered the North Kona landscape. As we sampled the lama berries, honed in on uhiuhi flowers, and inquired about native rare plants we had never seen before, we were reminded of just how beautiful Hawaii’s native forests were and why we must continue to bring all stakeholders to the table to ensure the forests that do remain (or are being restored) are protected from wildfire.
A big mahalo to Melissa Kunz and Clay Trauernicht and to the forest preserve staff of DOFAW for an incredible and worthwhile tour. We are sure the others in the group agree!
When it comes to solving our sometimes daunting wildfire issues, we need a whole collective of individuals and groups from a wide spectrum of disciplines and backgrounds. On Wednesday, February 15, HWMO’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Pablo Beimler, shared this important lesson with Waimea Middle School students at Career Day. To get the message across, Pablo tapped into the creative and artistic minds of the students.
After starting with a viewing of the Prevent Wildfires to Protect Our Ocean YouTube video produced by HWMO, Pablo had the students draw their ideal Big Island complete with healthy watersheds and thriving communities. Each student was then asked to create an emoji that best expressed how the island scene made them feel.
Then, it was time to introduce wildfire to the picture. The students were asked what impacts a wildfire could have on the island. With each impact, whether it was smoke, burnt forests, polluted waterways, or damaged powerlines, the students wreaked havoc on their island by drawing fiery scribbles over the resources affected. By the end of the exercise, their islands had gone through a rough time. The students then developed new emojis to express how they felt about their new island scene.
To wrap it up, Pablo had each of the students write or draw two types of people or activities on Post-it notes that could help create a Fire Adapted Community. A whole range of amazing, creative ideas were developed, including having politicians, celebrities, family members, scientists, botanists, and gardeners be a part of the big picture. Each student was asked to place their Post-it note on a poster of an island scene to demonstrate that it will take all of us to keep this waʻa afloat.
Whether you are growing plants around your home for aesthetic reasons, to restore natives, or to feed your family, the principles of Firewise landscaping are always the same: reduce the horizontal and vertical continuity of vegetation, remove dead and dying plants and plant matter, and keep plants green year round. HWMO shared these tips and more, including Ready, Set, Go! Wildland Fire Action Guides and Wildfire & Drought Look Out! flyers with Oahu residents at the Second Saturday Rose Sale at the University of Hawaii CTAHR Urban Garden Center on February 11th. Although we made some great connections at the event with people from all over the island, including representatives from Wahiawa Senior Center, Aloha Arborist Association, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, a powerful storm cut our time short.
Our outreach booth was no match for the downpour and flooding that overtook our spot at the Garden Center in the usually drier Pearl City area. However, the rain-soaked event just goes to show that even on rainy days, HWMO is still willing and able to share the importance of wildfire prevention and readiness! Mahalo UH CTAHR for the invite to set-up a booth!
In 2016, Launiupoko, near Lahaina, became the first nationally-recognized Firewise Community in West Maui. The accomplishment did not go unnoticed. In fact, news quickly spread to the neighboring Puʻunoa community. This year, Puʻunoa will be working towards the same certification as Launiupoko.
To begin the process, HWMO joined its partners from Division of Forestry and Wildlife and West Maui Mountains Watershed Partnership to conduct a Firewise hazard assessment of the agricultural lots in Puʻunoa. The team first met with several residents from Puʻunoa and the general manager of the HOA to discuss the Firewise certification process.
They soon followed the meeting by caravanning (and walking/hiking) throughout the community to assess common wildfire hazards and successful Firewise modifications around homes. Brainstorming ideas, the topic of managed grazing emerged numerous times as one of the ways to mitigate the large tracts of flammable grasslands. The group made their way to the Makila Reservoir and Kauaula Stream, important water suppression resources used by firefighters during past wildfires in the area. During one of the recent storms, the roadway across the stream was destroyed — flooding is another hazard the community faces.
Mahalo to DOFAW, WMMWP, Hawaiiana Management Company, and the newly formed Puʻunoa Firewise Committee for playing an important role in moving Puʻunoa towards Firewise certification.
In the first big event of 2017, HWMO joined a number of other organizations in hosting an informational booth at the Wiliwili Festival, usually held in September. The festival, put on by long-time HWMO partner Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, was delayed until January due to an unusually late bloom for the storied wiliwili trees of Waikoloa. Throughout the day, serene live music filled the air as hundreds upon hundreds of visitors of all ages strolled through the Waikoloa Stables to learn about conserving natural resources and protecting our forests and watersheds.
HWMO introduced a brand new booth layout in conjunction with Pacific Fire Exchange (PFX) and the Waikoloa Village Fire Management Action Committee. With many helping hands, HWMO held several fun activities for keiki: wildfire prevention sign making and a new game called "Building and Testing a Strong Fire Adapted Community." The game attracted young builders and creative minds who constructed bridges or buildings out of craft sticks and binder clips. In order to receive a set of building materials, the young builders had to answer a series of scavenger hunt questions all related to information at our booth (including who is the owl you see all over our booth? - answer: Kaleo the Pueo). Once the keiki built their structures, none identical to the other, they had to carefully place hot embers (secret revealed: heavy river stones painted with fiery colors) on the structures to test their strength. Each craft stick had an important contributor of a Fire Adapted Community labeled on it. In the end, we were amazed by the strength of the Fire Adapted Community structures created. All of them withstood the ember attacks!
A big mahalo to Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative for the opportunity to share information about wildfire prevention and preparedness with the community, including during a one-hour workshop in the afternoon. Find out more about the great work WDFI does in the community here: http://waikoloadryforest.org/