Lonely Planet Writer

Hawaii has an ambitious plan to restore its forests

Hawaii is an ecologically unique place in the USA and its forests are home to 10,000 unique species. Yet deforestation also means it’s home to 25% of the country’s endangered species, leading the WWF to dub it ‘the endangered species capital of the world.’ Now one project is aiming to restore the landscape and ecological balance.

Hawaii is home to lush rainforests. Photo by MNStudio/Shutterstock

The Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative wants to plant 1.3 million trees – nearly one tree for every person in the state – in their legacy forests. Currently, there are 400,000 new trees on the north side of Hawai’i island with another forest a 250,000 capacity started last year.

Crucially, these forests will be populated by native trees, which are not only part of the natural ecosystem but play a role in the island’s rich culture. The native King Koa makes up the bulk of the forests and has a long history with Hawaiian royalty and is joined by the Milo tree which was once considered sacred. When the trees die of natural causes, they will be harvested for timber and a new tree will be planted in its place.

The koa tree is native to Hawaii and is the star of the new legacy forests. Photo by Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative

Tourism also plays a role in planting and maintaining the forests. Owners of the newly reforested land are able to run eco-tours as a source of revenue and local company Paradise Helicopters give you a free tour of the forest when you sponsor seven trees. You can also take a tour of the forests and choose a sponsorship tree yourself.

If you’re not able to make it to Big Island just yet, you can pay to plant a legacy tree online. As well as funding good causes, you’ll also be able to track your tree once it’s out of the nursery and planted in the wild.

Hope for the future. Photo by Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative