USFWS: Back from the Brink of Extinction at Hakalau Forest NWR
Bureau: Fish and Wildlife Service
Baron Horiuchi and his work at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge are sometimes the only thing that stands between an extinct plant and its total disappearance from the Earth.
The Phyllostegia brevidens plant was thought to be extinct for more than 100 years. Once discovered on the refuge, Horiuchi has propagated and replanted more than 1,000 of these native plants, preventing its total extirpation.
|Baron Horiuchi standing next to a newly planted koa tree. Photo by Megan Nagel/USFWS|
As the Service’s only horticulturalist, Horiuchi leads a team of volunteers and the refuge staff in efforts to restore native and endangered Hawaiian species to their home on the windward slopes of Mauna Kea.
Horiuchi’s techniques have resulted in the propagation and outplanting of several endangered Hawaiian lobeliad and mint species. Outplanting means moving a plant from a greenhoouse to the outdoors.
The lobeliad Clermontia pyrularia is down to 20 individuals in the wild and Horiuchi has propagated more than 1,100 in the greenhouse since 1998. Cyanea shipmanii lobeliads are down to just three individuals in the wild and Horiuchi has propagated more than 800 since 1999. The endangered mints Phyllostegia velutina and Phyllostegia racemosa are both down to 10 individuals in the wild and he has propagated hundreds of them in the past decade.
Due to Horiuchi’s persistence and ingenuity more than 6,000 other plants of seven endangered species have been propagated from seeds and cuttings, greenhouse grown and outplanted into protected areas.
“You learn how not to give up on plants," Horichi said. "It’s like creative work.”
But bringing species back from the brink is just one example of his success.
Since 1989, almost 400,000 native plants, including koa trees, have been out-planted at the Hakalau Forest NWR. Each year more than 20,000 plants are grown at the on-site refuge greenhouse.
Seeds are collected, germinated, propagated and transplanted by hardworking volunteers supervised by Horiuchi. The volunteer program is so popular with conservation partners, organized volunteer groups, and individuals that volunteer weekends are fully booked a year in advance. Made for Horiuchi by a group of volunteers, a sign above the green house reads laulima and has many hand prints on it.
|The Hakalau Forest NWR staff under a sign that means many hands. "The work that I do would not be possible without our volunteers, and all of the other refuge staff,” said Horiuchi. Photo by Megan Nagel/USFWS|
“Laulima means many hands. The work that I do would not be possible without our volunteers, and all of the other refuge staff,” said Horiuchi, “The volunteers are about the island [Hawaii] – it is in their heart. They are passionate about this work, just like the refuge staff.”
Where 20 years ago the slopes of Mauna Kea more closely resembled a pasture, they now are returning to native forest habitat. Due to the return of this habitat, Hakalau Forest NWR is one of the only locations where native forest bird populations are stable or increasing.
Many of the native bird species, such as ‘apapane, ‘i‘iwi, Hawai‘i ‘elepaio, and Hawai‘i ‘amakihi, are seen regularly within the replanted areas and returning forest habitat. In addition, the endangered ‘akepa and ‘akiapōlā‘au regularly forage in the replanted koa groves
“If you plant it, they will come. That’s how I found out I loved the ‘elepaio when it was the first bird I started seeing come back to the koa trees,” said Horiuchi.
Forest restoration at Hakalau creates a necessary hedge against extinction for many Hawaiian bird species and has served as a hopeful model of how Hawaiian forest may be restored elsewhere.
|Baron Horiuchi won the 2012 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence. Photo by Megan Nagel/USFWS|
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the 2012 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence to Baron Horiuchi, for his scientific contributions toward native plant propagation and restoration at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.
“We are honored that Baron has been recognized with this award,” said Robyn Thorson, Director of the Pacific Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “His work to return previously thought to be extinct, endangered and unique native plants is an important part of the successful expansion of native forest, and habitat for recovery of forest birds at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.”
For Horiuchi, he can’t imagine working anywhere else. “I love these trees, this forest, this island,” he said. “It’s in my heart.”
A version of this message was posted Dec. 11 on the USFWS Pacific Region's blog.