The Kahikinui Project is part of a reforestation effort led by a Hawaiian community on the island of Maui. The project aims to utilize over 500,000 pounds of wild, organic protein that need to be removed in order for restoration to be successful.
In June 2018, through the support of the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership and the State of Hawaii, the first stage of reforestation is set to be complete with the fencing off of 4,500 acres of forest. The Kahikinui Project was devised to address the second phase of reforestation, which is the removal of nearly 2,000 invasive ungulates within the conservation area. The project will undertake an unprecedented endeavor - to harvest the vast majority of these animals as a healthy source of food for the Kahikinui community as well as larger communities in need throughout Hawaii.
Beyond the health of our environment and food systems, the Kahikinui Project hopes to connect people to the story of this tiny community, who took the stewardship of their resources into their own hands, who – through their dedication, collectiveness, and love for the land – were able to bring back a forest, a forest that in their own words will serve as "a source of wonder and aloha aina into perpetuity.”
The first objective of Ka Ohana O Kahikinui when resettling and restoring Kahikinui's Hawaiian Home Lands in the mid-90's was the protection and restoration of its forests. With the help of multiple partners, the community aims to carry out this goal - a goal that is vital to the health of their entire watershed. Located upland of the homestead tracts are over 7,000 acres of mesic koa forests. These forests were once among the most robust and diverse in the entire island chain, supporting an abundance of native plant and animal life, much of which could be found no where else in the world.
Over the last 150 years, ranching in the region has led to systematic deforestation due to overgrazing that has reduced forest cover to less than 10% of its former extent, none of it intact. Based on observations following similar efforts in the neighboring regions of Kaupo and Haleakala National Park, fence-construction and subsequent removal of feral ungulates will trigger spontaneous recovery of, not only the koa canopy, but a wealth of plant and animal life throughout all strata of forest; among them, the critically endangered Maui parrotbill, once presumed extinct and now numbering over 500 birds whose numbers can only strengthen with every acre of forest reclaimed. Outside of its function within the ecosystem, the abundance of native biota lends itself to the perpetuation of traditional landscapes through which Hawaiians continue to access their spiritual culture.
The kupuna (ancestors) had a saying, "hahai no ka ua i ka ululaau," that the rains always follow the forests. This understanding still holds water today. Along the arid stretches of lowlands across the leeward side of East Maui where rain-catchment systems are reliant on clouds ushered in by upland stands of trees and where groundwater is fed by fog interception in Haleakala's cloud forests, these old words are felt in full. The kupuna understood the value of water and the forests that captured it and protected them through the ahupuaa - a system of strict land management that recognized the interconnectedness of all natural systems from the mountaintops all the way to the shores and their fisheries. In this centuries-old design, we find the answers to so many of today's environmental concerns - water resources, carbon sequestering, productive agriculture, soil health and retention, as well as the health of reef and marine resources - each addressed and resolved through the diligent stewardship of our forests and the waters that follow them.
The introduction of invasive ungulates - cattle, deer, goats and pigs - has had devastating effects on Hawaii's watersheds. The Kahikinui Project was created to address the Kahikinui community's want for an alternative to typical management practices that would see these animals culled and wasted. Considering the human role in the animals' introduction and the intrinsic value in all living things, the project aims to shift the view of these animals from feral problem to food resource through innovative and humane harvesting methods. Immense and free-roaming, these herds of animals offer up an untapped source of organic, healthy, lean, and truly wild protein. When coupled with their role in conservation, forest first food has the ability to connect people to natural resources and the efforts to protect them like never before.
Turning to historical narratives, Kahikinui was once a prolific supplier of sweet potato in Hawaii; likewise, every kind of region and climate throughout the islands was employed to create secure and localized food systems that were once able to support a large population base. Many of these stories of abundance have faded through eras of plantations and land privatization leading to the present shape of things - an isolated island chain with very little food security, heavily dependent on the importation of food from overseas, and, in the case of protein, almost entirely so. Now, more than ever, projects like this one are needed to create viable and local food but also to tell, once again, these stories of abundance as a catalyst for engagement and change.
What sets this conservation effort apart from so many others across Hawaii is the Kahikinui community itself. As pioneers of the Kuleana Homestead Program administered through the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Ka Ohana O Kahikinui has taken on the opportunity and the challenge of creating a subsistence community in this arid, rugged, and remote region of East Maui. They are a small group of about 15 Hawaiian families living entirely off-grid and in strong solidarity. Besides the challenges they face resettling this region, Ka Ohana O Kahikinui, much like their kupuna before them, have taken on the kuleana, the responsibility, of managing their natural resources. From the inception of this community till now, they have been unwavering in their stance that the forest comes first.
Ka Ohana O Kahikinui helped to form the Kahikinui Project that it might serve as a mechanism to harvest as many animals being removed from the forest as possible, over half a million pounds of wholesome protein, with the potential to feed not just their own community, but thousands of households throughout Hawaii. They have made clear, through this effort, that their idea of community and their commitment to it, stretch far beyond the norm. For this small band of Hawaiian families, as well as for so many other families throughout the islands, the sharing of food is an integral part of a long-laid continuum of culture - so too is the sharing of responsibility and of story. It is our sincere and combined hope that, over the course of this groundbreaking project, we might share each of these things with you.