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HFI is working with the Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL), and other community partners to  manage the 70-acre endangered plant preserves at the Villages of La‘i‘Ōpua in Kealakehe, North Kona, on Hawai‘i Island. In addition to endemic, indigenous, and Polynesian-introduced plants, some of the rarest endangered plants in the world are being protected and perpetuated.

Ethnobiologist Jill Wagner, Future Forests Nursery is collecting seed, propagating and outplanting native  species, and overseeing the maintenance of the Preserve.  Agro Resources is providing weed control, irrigation, and plant maintenance and care assistance.

Dryland Intern Mentorship Program

Volunteers at La‘i‘Ōpua Dry Forest Preserves.

Ethnobotanist Jill Wagner is coordinating a Dryland Intern Mentorship Program at La‘i‘Ōpua and Pālamanui Dry Forest Preserves. Jill teaches the interns to identify native and non-native species as well as in-depth taxonomy for a clear understanding of the origins and functions of a plant in the ecosystem. The interns are being trained in the field and take students from Pālamanui College and K-12, Blue Zone Project volunteers, and other residents and visitors to the dryland forest for service learning activities. The interns and volunteers learn all aspects of restoration including weeding, observing plant pollinators, collecting seed, planting, monitoring, and setting up irrigation. Jill shares her knowledge and expertise with a new generation of biologists and land stewards.

The Dryland Mentorship Program interns and volunteers are maintaining and enhancing the native dryland habitat demonstration plantings along the La‘i‘Ōpua Community Garden walking trail.  The intention for the 4-acre La‘i‘Ōpua Community Garden is to rehabilitate the dryland forest and enhance this community amenity. Volunteers gain hands-on experience in restoration and learn about the beautiful species that comprise this rare ecosystem.

The Hawai’i Tourism Authority awarded HFI $24,000 to help support forest restoration and outreach activities at La‘i‘Ōpua and Pālamanui Preserves.

Dryland Mentorship Program Video Series

Alahe’e Video
Lama Video
Pua Kala Video

Mahalo to Project Funders
Palamanui Global Holdings
Department of Hawaiian Home Lands
Hawai’i Tourism Authority Aloha ‘Āina Program
Hawai’i Community Foundation
Strong Foundation

Learn more at:

Previous Efforts at La‘i‘Ōpua Preserve

In addition to site restoration and management, this project provided the West Hawai‘i community with cultural and environmental education and forest stewardship opportunities through the Hui Lā‘au Kama‘āina outreach program. The program instilled in the homesteaders at La‘i‘Ōpua a sense of their historic and cultural landscape. The plants being restored were part of their ‘ohana and opportunities to relearn those connections and to nurture and care for their family members were important to the success and well-being of this new community.

Values of aloha, mālama ‘āina, pono, and lōkahi were essential components of this project. The project involved taking care of the land, water, air, and each other in spiritual harmony and creating opportunities for healthy lifestyles, both mentally and physically.

The Hui Lā‘au Kama‘āina Team created  a native dryland habitat demonstration planting along a walking trail within the La‘i‘Ōpua Dryland Preserve.  The walking trail is integrated with the natural landscape, offering views of the ocean and connections to the wind and sun. Interpretive signage and plant ID signs along the walking trail provide information about the project and the native plants.

Future Forests Nursery is working with Agro Resources to provide site maintenance and management including invasive weed control, irrigation installation and repair, outplanting native plants, and other site maintenance duties.   Former La‘i‘Ōpua Village Project Manager and Civil Engineer William Makanui and Leonard Bisel, Leonard Bisel Associates have provided much appreciated support of the project.

Tropical dryland habitats are among the most threatened and endangered ecosystems in the world. In Hawai‘i, over 95% of the State’s dry forests have been destroyed and over 25% of the federally listed endangered plant taxa in the Hawaiian flora are from dry forest ecosystems. Hawaii’s remaining dryland forests have been severely impacted by deforestation, fire, and invasions by alien species.

Project Sponsors
Arthur Lawrence Mullaly Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation
Atherton Family Foundation
Bill Healy Foundation
Cooke Foundation
Department of Hawaiian Home Lands
Friends of Hawaii Charities
Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association
Hawai‘i Forest Institute
Hawai‘i Tourism Authority Kūkulu Ola: Living Hawaiian Culture Program
Hawai‘i Tourism Authority Aloha ‘Āina Program
Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization
Kukio Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation
La‘i ‘Ōpua 2020
U.S. Department of Education’s “Education through Cultural & Historical Organizations”


Salvation Army Family Intervention Services
The Salvation Army Family Intervention Services (FIS) provides residential, prevention and intervention services to adolescents in communities on the Hawai‘i Island. Its mission is to provide youth with skills for a healthy lifestyle, and instill purpose, hope and vision to youth and their families. FIS provides opportunities to achieve academic success and personal resiliency.  Mahalo to Salvation Army Family Intervention Service youth for all their hard work at La‘i‘Ōpua Preserve.

Aupaka o Wao Lama
Aupaka o Wao Lama was a collaborative partnership program among: Kealakehe High School, Spirit of Aloha 1-credit course taught by Greg Harrs; La‘i ‘Ōpua 2020 Kau I Ka Mālie Cultural Center and Aupaka Ke Kilohana; and HFIA programs Hui La‘au Kama‘āina La‘i ‘Ōpua, and Ho‘ola Ka Makana‘ā Ka‘ūpūlehu.

This “Learn while doing” place-based stewardship education partnership, integrated cultural ecology, and science ecology. The primary sites of activity were: 1) The community “Piko” area of the native plant Aupaka Preserve, within Hawaiian Homelands of La‘i ‘Ōpua; 2) The L2020 Kau I Ka Mālie Cultural and Technical Center at Kealakehe High School; 3) The cultural ecology outdoor learning site of Ho‘ola Ka Makana‘ā, Ka‘ūpūlehu. Cultural Ecology educators Keoki Apokolani Carter (DOE certified) and Yvonne Yarber Carter coordinated the experiential learning events and curriculum, along with the HFIA dryland forest restoration team, utilizing a combination of cultural knowledge, place-based activities, curriculum and digital resources. This was done within the context of sound conservation practices; and homeland cultural ecology values and history. The “Spirit of Aloha” Kealakehe High School students (1-credit course) was the haumana of this experiential learning program.

Firebreak Assistance
The Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization contributed $3,000 to the project for firebreak maintenance and expansion. The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to protecting communities and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire.  Much of the La‘i ‘Ōpua dryland habitat is dominated by invasive species, which suppresses the native vegetation and fuels dangerous wildfires that have proven to be devastating to native species.  Maintaining adequate firebreaks is essential to the protection of this unique native dryland habitat.

February 2011 was the first volunteer month clearing fountain grass in the area that became a education native garden within the Aupaka Preserve.  Volunteer events have continued through 2014.  The photos below reflect the hope and commitment of many to save the few native plant species that remain in this “wao lama” dryland ecosystem. They tell a story of collective efforts to mālama ‘āina.  Mahalo to DHHL, HWMO, many volunteers, and the Hui Laʻau Kama’āina for their commitment to this effort.

Learn more about Hawaii’s dryland habitats at and Dryland Forest Restoration

Hui Lā‘au Kama‘āina: Restoration and Education at La‘i‘Ōpua Preserve Photo Gallery


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