Categorized | Environment

Partners sought for Panaewa Zoo Discovery Forest project


The Hawaii Forest Industry Association (HFIA) and Hawaii County Parks & Recreation, along with a diverse group of community partners, has launched the Panaewa Zoo Discovery Forest project.

The project will engage community volunteers in creating and maintaining a demonstration forest at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens in Hilo. The 3-acre project will provide education, recreation, and volunteer opportunities for community residents and visitors.

As a representation of Hawaii’s native and plantation forests, the Discovery Forest is a unique and innovative project. Project plans include a native forest demonstrating native Hawaiian plants and aviaries with native Hawaiian birds; a plantation forest demonstrating selected high-value hardwood species; an agro-forest demonstrating cultural, medicinal, overstory, midstory, and understory plants; and interpretive materials.

“We hope this project will inspire volunteers and visitors to support and participate in the conservation and sustainable management of Hawaii’s forests, their fauna and flora. Our goal is that everyone who visits leaves the exhibit with a greater appreciation for Hawaii’s forest ecosystems and the many threats they face”, said HFIA Executive Director Heather Gallo.

The project site is located immediately adjacent to existing zoo exhibits. Visitors will hike a meandering trail through the dynamic native forest and a linear trail adjacent to the hardwood and agro-forest. The plantation demonstration will feature high-value timber species that grow well in Hawaii.

Culturally significant plants that once grew on traditional farms and in the native forests of East Hawaii will be featured in the agro-forest. This will include Polynesian-introduced plants that arrived with migrations in voyaging canoes.

These “canoe plants,” along with many endemic species, played essential roles in Hawaiian culture, and were used for food, fiber, tools, implements, building materials, and medicine. Many of these culturally significant plants such as ulu (Breadfruit), kukui (Candlenut), mountain apple, hala, banana, noni, awa, and sweet potato will find a place in the Discovery forest.

HFIA has been awarded $30,000 by the Hawaii Tourism Authority for the project. Other project partners include: Aileen’s Nursery; Forest Solutions; Hawaii Community College’s Forest TEAM and Jr. Forest TEAM students; Hawaii Forest Institute; Jay Warner, Awapuhi Farms & Mill; Leonard Bisel & Associates; San Diego Zoo Institute of Conservation Research; UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources; and UH Tropical Forestry Program, College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management students.

“There will be volunteer opportunities in all phases of this project including preparing the site for planting; collecting and propagating seed; outplanting seedlings; organizing volunteers, and caring for new plants”, said Gallo. “We are excited about the community involvement so far and we’re actively seeking project partners who are interested in participating.”

HFIA is currently recruiting a part-time volunteer coordinator to assist with the project. To learn more about volunteer and partnership or employment opportunities, contact HFIA at 808-933-9411.

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