Categorized | Environment, Featured

Hawai‘i Volcanoes sets prescribed burn for June 3rd

Park firefighters watch fire fueled by non-native grass, ferns, and shrubs.

Park firefighters watch fire fueled by non-native grass, ferns, and shrubs.


Weather permitting, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park will conduct a prescribed burn at Kealakomowaena, located near the end of Chain of Craters Road, on Wednesday, June 3, 2009.

The prescribed burn will stimulate the growth of native grass and other plant species, as well as reveal a cultural landscape once occupied by Native Hawaiian families living in the ahapua`a of Kealakomo.

At one time, pili grasslands dominated the coastal areas of the main Hawaiian Islands, but are becoming increasingly rare due to invasive species. Hawai‘i Volcanoes is testing a strategy to maintain or expand pili grasslands using controlled fire.

 Historically, prescribed fires in this ecosystem have shown that fire can reduce the dominant alien woody species and temporarily reduce alien grasses.  With the reduction of invasive alien species, a window of opportunity is created to increase native plant populations by planting seeds of native species.

Park botanist Sierra McDaniel says, “The results gained from this experiment will expand managers understanding of the role of fire in determining plant composition in the pili grassland system and are a necessary first step towards formulating a comprehensive restoration plan for the coastal lowlands.”

Kealakomowaena is a kipuka, or island of vegetation, found at the middle section of the Kealakomo ahupua`a.  Here, Hawaiians lived and worked the land, growing sweet potato in numerous agricultural features spread across the landscape.  During the pre-contact and historic periods, this area was important to the survival of families that lived in the ahupua`a. At the nearby coastal zone of the Kealakomo ahupua`a, families harvested salt and fish for drying which they traded outside of the ahupua`a for resources that could not be found in this part of the island.

The prescribed burn at Kealakomowaena will help re-establish the traditional cultural landscape of the area which is now covered by invasive species.  The burn is set to be done in a manner to preserve the numerous house sites, trails, walls, and agricultural features.

According to park archeologist, Jadelyn Moniz-Nakamura, “The burn is a positive as it will remove the invasive species that now cover a majority of the archeological sites.”  She added, “It will open up the area so that we can see the sites better and thus be able to record and preserve them, as well as open up the area for interpretive purposes.”  The burn will fortify the cultural landscape by stimulating the growth of native vegetation, including pili grass, which was traditionally enhanced through repeated burning.

Fourteen firefighters from Hawai‘i Volcanoes will carry out the burn planned for the 103-acre kipuka. There will be a pullout marked along Chain of Craters Road at the top of Holei Pali where visitors can stop and look down on the controlled burn taking place  throughout the day.

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