With less than 10% left of the koa forests that once covered these islands, it's heartening to learn that reforestation with koa could bring huge economic and ecological benefits to Hawai`i.
According to new research by Stanford's Josh Goldstein, long-term reforestation of pastureland could generate nine times more income than landowners now earn from cattle ranching alone (via eureka alert).
The study looked at current practices and new opportunities in the uplands of Kona, with its mosaic of pasture and forested lands at the 3,500 to 5,500 feet elevation.
With his co-authors, Goldstein created a menu of land management options that enables both landowners and conservationists to "win".
The study revealed that at today's prices, a rancher who did no reforestation would earn $194 per acre raising cattle, versus $669 with cattle and koa.
However, those who undertook reforestation without cattle could earn $1,661 per acre if they combined timber harvests with federal subsidies for protecting and restoring environmentally sensitive lands.
Most interesting, from my perspective, landowners could generate $617 per acre with "carbon credits" and subsidies for simply growing koa (i.e., not counting on the money from harvesting). This is the "get-paid for-planting-trees" scenario previously posted.
Koa forests began disappearing in the 18th century when Europeans introduced livestock and logging to the islands.
Studies have shown that the demise of koa has had a detrimental impact on a number of ecological services, such as freshwater aquifers and biodiversity.
The researchers wrote:
"A large fraction of native Hawaiian biota is associated with koa forests, including endangered birds, the one native land mammal [the Hawaiian hoary bat], understory plants and other groups."
According to co-author Gretchen Daily, also at Stanford, the key is providing the right incentives. Daly has "a vision of making conservation mainstream--economically attractive and commonplace--and doing so by creating incentives that align long-term societal well-being with short-term, selfish best interest."