Column: Caring For Our Land

We contributed environmental articles to the Puna News “Caring For Our Land” column, from May 2003 through August 2010. Puna News then shut down its print edition, but we resumed contributions after it relaunched online.

Selected Articles from 2013

Tips for Life Without Plastic Shopping Bags

We should all recognize that it would be a good idea to take personal responsibility and, at the very least, reduce our personal dependency on these items. There are many good reasons to do this, starting with the pollution created by their manufacture: they are a petroleum-based product (think oil spills) and the oil refineries produce massive amounts of air pollution. At the consumer end of the cycle, as we all know, there is the (too often) ‘mis-disposal’ along our roadsides and in our oceans, as well as the failure of the plastics to break down and biodegrade.

Unfortunately, many of us have become so used to the convenience of these bags that we can’t image life without them. But it wasn’t really all that long ago when there was no such thing as a plastic shopping bag (here is where I date myself) and people managed just fine. We had fabric shopping bags as well as cardboard boxes and paper bags – both made from recycled paper – to carry home our groceries. These are still available today. As a matter of fact, there is a larger variety of cloth and recycled shopping bags, in many sizes and colors, than ever before, and they are washable and can hold more weight than plastic. Shoppers at Island Naturals and Cost-U-Less are used to providing their own bags or using the boxes that delivered the merchandise to the store. These stores do a brisk business and have saved money on purchase of plastic shopping bags. In addition, they do not have the problem of disposing of all those boxes. And they can pass the savings on to their customers, because, make no mistake, those bags you are given at the register ARE NOT FREE – their cost is included in your grocery bill.

But so many people have testified that they re-use their plastic bags for other things, such as their garbage, and would have to actually purchase trash bags if the ban goes into effect. The good news is that there are alternatives: if you have an animal, the bag the feed comes in is serviceable for garbage. And if you recycle and compost, you will have less garbage and won’t ‘need’ so many plastic bags. I use the boxes from the grocery store to sort my recyclables, and it is really easy. They are all lined up in one area and as I need to dispose of something I just toss it into the appropriate box! When the box is full, I pick it up and carry it to the car and take it to the recycle center. Usually I can even re-use these boxes. But once they have gotten too old and funky, they can be recycled too – or used as a mulch around my plants.

A representative of the senior center’s nutrition program testified against the bag ban, claiming that the seniors take their leftovers home in the plastic bags, without which they would experience a hardship. Hello. Why can’t they bring a lidded container with them and transfer their leftovers to that? This is not rocket science.

I believe that we can all be creative and find alternatives to plastic shopping bags, enjoy less pollution, ease the strain on the landfill, protect our ocean and wildlife, and STILL enjoy a quality of life. We just have to decide what is important to us, that that is what we want to do, and then just do it!

Keep the ‘Io Flying

This is still up in the air.

In 1993 a mainland group, National Wildlife Institute, heavily funded by Exxon and other large corporations, and with an agenda to dismantle the Endangered Species Act one species at a time, filed a petition with the U.S. Department of the Interior to have the ‘Io removed from the Endangered Species List. That group is now defunct, but the government is forced by the rules to continue the process. Archaeological evidence shows that the ‘Io were once found on all the major Hawaiian Islands, but now they are only here on the Big Island and nowhere else on earth! Wildfires, land clearing and lava flows have greatly reduced the number of huge ‘ohia trees that they require for nesting, perching and fledging. I have noticed fewer birds than ever, and others I know have agreed. Yet Interior, using spurious random sightings and mostly computer modeling, are claiming that the population has recovered and expanded. If you disagree with them, please visit this page for more information and contacts: If the ‘Io is your aumakua, please mention that and tell them what loss of protection means to you and your ohana. Mahalo.

Selected Articles from 2010 through 2012

The Humpbacks are Back!

Some of the most magical moments in my life have involved whales. Flying back to the Big Island one day from O’ahu, I looked out along the Hamakua coastline and saw a rainbow on the water. It was a full circle. Inside the circle, as if by design, was swimming a mamma whale and her baby. Another time, at a party hear Kaloli Point, in a house right on the water with lots of windows, we saw a mother and baby within fifty feet of the house! So I always look forward to this time of year and the opportunity to add more magical whale moments to my life experiences. And you can too.

Although you can watch for whales any time this season, it is helpful to the work of the Hawaiian Humpback Whale Sanctuary if you also watch for them on specific days where your sightings can be recorded. The designated days this year are January 28, February 25 and March 31. Times are 8:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The east Hawai‘i sites are Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo, the lighthouse at Cape Kumukahi, and the Kehena lookout. Each location has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of parking, shade, etc. I like Kehena lookout personally.

There are websites where you can get more information and register for one or all three of the whale watch days:, http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa .gov, or you can call toll-free 1-888-55-WHALE ext. 253.

It is so rare that I get a chance to go down to the ocean and enjoy myself, that I like to expand my whale watch days by packing a picnic lunch and going swimming afterward. If you spot whales, that is always a big exciting plus…but you can have fun even if they don’t appear on schedule. This is one of the very special treats that Hawai‘i has to offer, and it’s FREE!

Environmental Etiquette
With the hot summer weather, I hope you will all take the opportunity to enjoy the cool ocean breezes and our beautiful coastal waters. But a friendly word of advice: when you leave, check your footprint. Have you left the area as pristine as you found it? Or cleaner? If you were the next user of the area, would you be bummed out or feel blessed?

Far too many people think nothing of leaving their garbage behind instead of depositing it in the receptacle (if there is one) or packing it home. Sometimes the trash is really gross, such as used Pampers. Sometimes it is small, like cigarette filters, but accumulates in such large quantities that the impression of seediness and ‘ainokea’ speaks volumes. And then in comes the tide and washes it into the water and someone will be swimming in that pollution. It could be you or someone you know and care about.

Let’s all make a summer resolution to add a trash bag to our beach-going supplies and clean up after ourselves – and even after others who may have left your favorite place a mess.
And while we’re talking about environmental etiquette at the seashore, please don’t forget that this is a sensitive ecosystem you’re visiting and enjoying. Coral is a living communal organism – not a rock. Please don’t tromp on it or break it off. If you see a honu or monk seal basking, enjoy the view without harassing them – use the zoom lens to get closer instead of your legs. Be a role model for your kids. They may already have learned this etiquette in school (we hope) and how embarrassing if they have to correct YOU.

By being considerate of others and without hardly any effort at all, we can keep our beaches clean, beautiful and enjoyable for ourselves and everyone else. Have a great time this summer and enjoy the scenery!

Arbor Day, but which one?

Ohia LehuaFriday, April 29th is celebrated as Arbor Day on the mainland, because that is a good time to plant trees – the ground has thawed so you can dig a hole, and the tree will have all spring, summer and fall to become established before winter sets in.

In Hawai‘i, however, we celebrate Arbor Day on the first Friday of November. Why are we different? Is it just plain orneriness or are there valid reasons? Well, we don’t have problems with frozen ground, and no freezing winters to prepare for, so that is one obvious consideration. However, our highest rainfall is in the winter, and trees need to be well watered-in after planting, so planting in the fall saves us having to pull out the hose or the watering can. If we plant in the spring, we would have to do a lot of hand-watering all spring and into the summer.

Now if you are planting your tree close to the house, don’t plan to be off-island, and don’t mind watering when there are a few days without rain, then it is certainly OK to plant your trees in the spring. However, do bear in mind that if the tree is blooming or fruiting, it will be concentrating its energies on that function and not on growing new roots. If the tree is immature and too young to bloom, then this may not be a problem. An older tree, however, will take longer to become established if it is planted during the wrong time in its cycle. Ideally, before the new leaves sprout is when you will get the best results. And new leaves usually come out in the spring.

This will involve some research on your part about the annual cycle of the particular kind of tree you want. It will also pay for you to examine the tree before you buy it, to help you determine where in its cycle it is. Look for leaf buds, young leaves, etc. to help guide you. Trees native to Hawai‘i are better adapted to the local conditions, and all other things being equal will probably yield better results for you. Just remember that trees are living beings and you want to help them survive, so that they can provide you with all their wonderful free benefits, such as oxygen, shade, beauty, and all the rest.

Selected Articles from 2009

Pie in the Sky

We attended one of the scoping meetings on the EIS Preparation Notice for the 30 meter telescope that a mainland group wants to build on Mauna Kea, and the science of the project is truly impressive. However, that doesn’t mean it should be done here. The project, if approved, will cover the size of a football field and include a parking lot and various out-buildings. Proponents stress economic and educational benefits. But there are already telescopes on the mountain and the educational benefits have been minimal.

Mauna Kea is one of the ceded lands, which by law are to be managed by the State for the benefit of the native Hawaiians – yet all these years the facilities up there are only paying $1 a year rent for that prime real estate – not even fair market value! So much for the much-touted economic benefits. This project does not pass the "sniff test". UH, which manages the "science reserve" on the mountain, has still not completed the court-ordered Comprehensive Management Plan or come up with a Mitigation Plan after all these years (and, mind you, you only need mitigation if you can identify potential damages and these have already been documented). UH is responsible for violating its agreement with the community way back when to only put ONE telescope up there and for gross mismanagement and degradation of what is a sacred site to many and a mountain of surpassing awesome beauty to others. Many years ago an activist named Jesus cleansed his temple of commercial degradation and exploitation. I see a strong parallel here.

No Appointments Needed for Medical Care in Pahoa:

It is surprising how many Puna residents still don’t know about the new Acute Care Clinic that has opened in the Pahoa Village Marketplace, between Clinical Labs and the County Elections Office. The Puna Community Medical Center (PCMC) opened its doors on February 1st, and is seeing patients on a walk-in basis from Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesday), including holidays. Accidents and illness don’t wait to happen during normal business hours, and itÕs good to know that timely treatment is now available right in Pahoa. All insurance is accepted and even those without coverage will not be turned away. This non-profit clinic has been created by the Puna grassroots as suggested by the Puna Community Development Plan. The County has helped with the initial funding, as have several foundations, and the Puna community has also supported it with donations and special benefit events. We all own it – it is our clinic, and it’s there for you when you and your family need it. Don’t be shy.

New Year Resolution to Volunteer?

If you have resolved to devote some of your time in 2010 to actively helping your community to be a better place (instead of just grumbling about current local problems), Malama O Puna will be able to help you fulfill that resolution. Not only do we have hands-on projects (such as propagating native plants, eradicating alien invasive species or cleaning our roadsides of litter) , but we need volunteers to organize fundraising benefits, staff information tables at community events, and help in a membership drive. If any of these activities interest you or someone you know, please get in touch with us at 965-2000 x 2. And mahalo nui loa.

Selected Articles from 2008

Genetic Modification: Our Position

There are several bills in the legislature this year regarding genetic modification of crops grown here in Hawai’i. Senate Bill 958 and House Draft 1 are calling for a ten year moratorium on GMO taro. There is also another bill tied up in committee regarding Kona coffee. The Malama O Puna Board has taken a policy decision on this matter and submitted testimony to the legislature. We oppose genetic modification of crops, and especially open field testing and the industry’s refusal to label.

Genetic modification is being promoted as the ONLY way to protect taro and other crops from pests and diseases, but nothing could be further from the truth. Selective breeding is a tool used successfully for thousands of years because it works. Increasing agricultural inspections at all points of entry could prevent invasive and potentially destructive organisms from gaining a foothold here. Avoidance of agribusiness type of monocropping, in itself unnatural, would also reduce the chances for crops to become infected. And healthy cultural practices with inputs of natural fertilizers will yield healthy plants with increased resistance while building soil quality.

With all these time tested tools, there is no need whatsoever to take the risks imposed by genetic modification. And risks there are: there is already a hefty track record of good intentions and mitigation plans gone wrong – both in Hawai’i and elsewhere. In some cases the cause was due to a crucial element being overlooked in drawing up the mitigation plan. In other cases it was human error. Murphy’s Law – if something can go wrong, it will.

Supporters of genetic modification tell us that their tests show no dangers to public health from consuming GMO foods. If their product is so great, why the tremendous resistance to labeling? Could it be that they have not done the right tests, or not run tests with a large enough sampling or for a long enough time? Or is it really because GMOs can replace open pollinated crops through contamination and ultimately they will control the food supply for the entire world? Paranoia or power tripping? You decide. And while you’re at it, decide if you want to take that chance.

By the way, foods that are labeled "100% organic"o r "Kosher" are GMO-free.
With anything else, unless it comes from your own garden, it’s a gamble.

Selected Articles from 2007


The issue before last we listed some of our projects that need volunteers, and I am pleased to report that two of our neighbors have stepped forward. Charlotte Jackson will be weeding the beds of the Pahoa Police Sub-station once a month, and Henry Horton will be watering the large forest-green planters on the boardwalk on a weekly basis. Mahalo for helping to keep Pahoa looking looking green and spiffy. Aloha Outpost has agreed to let us put some planters out front and commits to keeping them watered: Thanks Lamont! Due to repeated vandalism we have had to move the planters from Luquin’s. Mahalo to Pahoa Village Cafe for adopting them and to Luquin’s for repeatedly having to clean up after the vandals..

Lots of volunteers have taken part in our Winter Session of the Jr. Life Saving Program: (alphabetically) Townsend Barone, Mark Franklin, Michael Kaauamo, Billy Kenoi, Ann Kobsa, Alexis "Lexi" Lee, Rene Siracusa, Ida Smith and Albert Wilkinson. Craig Hindle helped with bureaucratic red tape. Councilman Dominic Yagong donated the groceries for the snacks we prepared for the first day. Several mothers of the students took part as well. And the program is funded by the County’s Healing Our Island Community Fund. Mahalos all around to the caring people in our community!

Weed Risk Assessment

After more than a century of political policies which favored development over protection of native forest, our State is either finally wising up or discovering that it is now timely and expedient to save our forests while we still have some left. This policy change did not just happen this year – it has been brewing for quite a while. The Natural Area Reserve System, the Forest Stewardship Program, and the Native Forest Tax exemption are some of the ways in which local government is helping our forests. But these programs are not well enough known, well enough funded, or comprehensive enough to save our forests.

Ultimately, as is usually the case, it comes down to YOU to take responsibility and do the right thing. Some of us may need attitude adjustments: we think that private property rights give us the legal right to do anything we want, and to a large extent that is correct. However, there is a higher "law" that states that if what you do on your land has impacts beyond your property lines, you need to consider responsible stewardship. Harboring invasive species for example, much as you personally may like them, will cause grief and major costs to your neighbors and community.

We finally have a tool which we can use to aid us in our choice of plants, and allow us to landscape with plants which will not invade our local ecosystems but still provide us with color, shade, fragrance, etc. This tool is call the "Weed Risk Assessment". More and more nurseries are evaluating their stock for invasive potential. In a nutshell, when you are considering a new plant for your garden, or deciding whether to keep an old one, here are some criteria you should consider:

Does it out-compete other desirable plants?
Is it a fast grower?
Does it mature (flower & go to seed) early?
Does it produce a lot of seeds?
Do its seeds sprout quickly?
Will its seeds keep viable for a long time?
Does it have effective/multiple seed dispersal methods?
Can it also reproduce from pieces of stem or root?
Do we have its pollinators here?
When mature, will it shade out other plants?
Does it produce a dense root mass?
Does Hawai‘i lack the plant’s traditional "enemies"?

If the plant you already have or wish to buy answers most of these questions with a "yes", then find another plant to substitute. Ideally, a native plant which will help to rebuild the gene pool and is already well acclimated to Hawai‘i. There are lots of choices for trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers, etc. Information is available at your library, on the net, and through Malama O Puna (808-965-9254). You don’t have to be part of the problem if you reach out to find the solutions. And our grandchildren will still be able to experience the beauties of our native forests and bird-life.