MAKAKILO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hawaii family with over 1,600 acres in the Waianae mountains is on a mission to restore the natural forest, one sapling at a time.
The property is owned by the Gill family, sons of the late Lt. Gov. Tom Gill.
And their goal is massive: A 21st century ecological restoration of lands whose degradation started when cattle were brought to the islands 200 years ago.
They've already started work, thanks in part to high school students. And they're looking forward to some exciting work ahead.
Labor attorney Tony Gill said cattle on the land destroyed natural forests. And then when the trees were gone, non-native forests were planted to hold the soil.
Gill said by the turn of the century, between 1890 to 1910, people were desperately trying to prevent erosion.
"The reason we want the native forest is for the native bio to put water into the ground. This forest is drier than it should be," Gill said.
He added, "We don't want the cows, we want to replace the forest. But if you remove the cows, you remove two things -- you remove the tax credit for cows and you invite fire."
And that's because without cattle the grass fuels wildfires.
The Gills believe they are just five to 10 years into a 300-year project.
Another important aspect of the site is a two-acre archaeological site.
"It's very much in the infancy stages of trying to understand what was it used for." said Thomas "Anu" Anuheali`i, the property's Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner.
The Gills have commissioned archaeological digs at the property, but there's much that still remains a mystery.
"The possibility is that there's a substantial population up here. Never been studied before. That's our job," Gill said.