State officials say the fungal disease called Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death is continuing to threaten native ‘ōhi‘a trees on the Big Island. 'Ōhi'a covers about 865,000 acres statewide. Recent surveys show the disease has now impacted nearly 50,000 acres on the Big Island, an increase of a little more than a third from earlier this year.
But the new data reveals the disease has not spread to other islands. J.B. Friday, an extension forester with the University of Hawai‘i, remained optimistic about containing the disease.
"The spread on the Big Island happened before we knew what was going on," said Friday, who emphasized that this was the first time the disease had been found in ‘ōhi‘a. "So it spread quite widely before we knew what was going on."
"We continue to test possible trees from other islands. We've tested dozens of samples so far," he said, explaining that none had come up positive for Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death. "But if one does turn up positive, we'll be implementing measures to stop it from spreading from there."
‘Ōhi‘a is critical to Hawai‘i’s native ecosystem, especially the island’s water source. It also provides habitat for native birds and species. The tree and its blossom, ‘ōhi‘a lehua, is also culturally important to Native Hawaiians.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources plans to continue aerial surveys twice a year across the state. Last year the state Department of Agriculture issues a temporary quarantine rule, banning interisland transport of the wood without a permit. The DOA is now deciding whether to make that rule permanent.
A video on Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources: