Field Tour of Leeward Wildfire Projects and Fire Prone Areas with Alex Friend (USFS PSW)

Through the Pacific Fire Exchange (PFX), Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization’s (HWMO) Elizabeth Pickett and Pablo Beimler and U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Institute for Pacific Islands Forestry’s (USFS PSW IPIF) Christian Giardina facilitated a field tour of leeward wildfire mitigation projects and fire-prone sites for the Station Director of the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, Alex Friend. 

The group first visited HWMO’s Waikoloa Dryland Wildfire Safety Park, Hawaii’s only Firewise demo garden, located at the end of Melia St. in Waikoloa Village. The park demonstrates how to reduce the impacts of wildfires through defensible space landscaping and fire-resistant building materials. The garden primarily consists of low-maintenance, native Hawaiian species that are resistant to drought, wind, and heat. Pickett and Beimler led the site visitors through the freshly-weeded garden (HWMO had held a Community Work Morning that day), explaining all of the hard work that HWMO and its partners and community members have put into the project. The hard work had payed off, judging by the plethora of new blossoms emerging on many of the native dryland plants (including ‘Ihi, ‘Ilima papa, Pohinahina, and ‘Ulei). The garden has made a positive impact for the community by not only adding aesthetic value to the neighborhood, but also providing a learning space for Firewise principles that residents can directly apply to their own homes. HWMO is planning on further site visits, including for the upcoming CNH Seminar Forest Fire Seminar and Training on April 9th-11th, and holding a Wildfire Awareness, Prevention, and Work Day event for the first National Wildfire Prevention Day on May 3rd. 

To top off the field tour, the group traveled to the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative’s (WDFI) Forest Preserve, located just southwest of Waikoloa Village. Jen Lawson, the Project Manager who has tirelessly coordinated the restoration, education and volunteer efforts for the preserve, greeted the group at the front gate and led a site tour. The group only scratched the surface of the 275 acre preserve, but were able to see the results of the projects, thus far. Wiliwili trees were sprouting new offspring, while ‘Ilima papa groves were blossoming. The group stopped by the lush nursery, where Jen pulled out a map of the preserve and described the wildfire threat that always looms. HWMO has coordinated with WDFI to co-fund fuelbreak implementations around the perimeter of the preserve, not without their share of challenges. However, the fuelbreaks have added significant security against wildfire scares, especially on the Northeast end of the preserve, where a wildfire would most likely come from. 

Through the field tour, HWMO, PFX, and USFS PSW IPIF were able to communicate to Friend the wildfire issues that Hawaii faces and how these organizations are making great strides in mitigating wildfire threats on the leeward side of Hawaii island, as well as the rest of the State and the Pacific.

Banner photo: (Left to Right): Alex Friend (USFS PSW), Jen Lawson (WDFI), Christian Giardina (USFS PSW-IPIF & PFX), and Elizabeth Pickett (HWMO & PFX) scan through Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve maps and discuss HWMO co-funded fuelbreaks.