HAMAKUA COAST (HawaiiNewsNow) - If you take a drive up the Hamakua coast from Hilo, you'll find something remarkable.
They're attempting to reforest the land with more than one million rare koa trees, and the project's success could pay big dividends at the annual Merrie Monarch festival.
In the misty mountains above the Hamakua coast, we head off the beaten path to witness the beginnings of a koa reforestation.
"Look how small they are. That's how we plant 'em!" says our guide, Richard Lindberg, from Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods.
HLH hopes to restore 1,000 acres of koa land on the Big Island. Koa trees are native to Hawaii - their use once reserved for alii (royalty). We're told the swath of green pastures we traveled once belonged to King Kamehameha, the Great.
Lindberg says, "It's not just getting a tree in the ground and walking away. We fence everything out to keep predators out and then, we go in, and we clear it. We have to clear out every invasive species that doesn't belong up there."
They start in the nursery - cultivating seeds from healthy, wild koa trees. As the seeds sprout, workers assign each tiny tree an RFID, a radio frequency ID tag number. Once in the ground, you can track its growth.
"On that number, we know what the GPS location of that tree is - which you can actually look up on Google Earth - and see the location of your tree here in Hawaii - which is really neat," says Lindberg.
He says "your" tree because HLH is inviting the public to sponsor a Legacy Tree. The money not only goes to reforestation but to affiliated non-profits and organizations like the Merrie Monarch festival.
"Buy the $60 tree. $20 goes to Merrie Monarch. The $1 goes to the Nature Conservancy, and the remaining $39 goes to Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods, and we plant trees just like we planted for you today," Lindberg explains.
Hawaii News Now planted a seedling in the shadow of the most majestic koa around these parts. Once reforested in years to come, some acreage will be for sustainable use but a large percentage is off-limits to harvesting.
For more information on how you can sponsor a tree, head to legacytrees.org or hawaiianlegacyhardwoods.com.