State Announces Plan For Native Tree Disease

Dec 1, 2016

Credit Flickr / Frank Hamm

Scientists, lawmakers, and representatives from federal agencies gathered at Hawai‘i’s state capital Wednesday for the first-ever Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death Summit. The fungal disease affecting one of Hawai‘i’s most important trees has killed more than 50,000 acres of native ‘ōhi‘a.

Lisa Keith is a plant pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agricultural Research Service in Hilo. She says one of the advancements in her lab has been more efficient testing through DNA. It’s allowed them to identify infected ‘ōhi‘a at a much faster pace.

“Instead of taking 2 to 4 weeks to do testing, we can now detect the fungus within a matter of hours,” said Keith. “It’s a much more rapid response to be able to figure out if the samples are infected.”

Unfortunately, Keith and her team have yet to find a treatment or cure for the disease. In the meantime the state is developing a strategic approach and has introduced a three year response plan. Rob Hauff is a forester with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife

“We’re not going to be able to eradicate it. What we’re hoping to do is slow it, contain it, and protect the forest that remains healthy,” said Hauff. “It’s going to be a very long term thing that natural resource managers in Hawai‘i are going to be dealing with for decades. There’s going to be elements like restoration that will have to be developed over time. What this plan does is really identify those first steps to get us down the road in dealing with this fungus.”

The plan calls for funding of a little more than $10 million, which Hawai‘i will look to leverage at both a state and federal level.

A video update on Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death from DLNR:

Rapid Ohia Death, November 2016 update from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.