In wake of devastation in Lahaina, calls grow for improved land management

The wildfires were fueled by dry invasive grasses leading to calls for better land management on Maui.
Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 5:42 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The wildfires on Maui were fueled by dry invasive grasses — and that could lead to calls for better land management on Maui.

One farmer said his experience proves it can save lives and there are high-tech tools that can make management more practical.

Eddy Garcia documented the damage at Living Earth Systems farm in Launiupoko. When the fires came, he said flames stopped where he’d recently cleared invasive growth.

“It burned us, but it didn’t go past here,” he said.

Since sugar plantations collapsed on Maui, invasive grasses took over barely managed expanses of land that are prone to drought, wind and — ultimately, fire. The devastation in Lahaina, onlookers say, will almost certainly lead to aggressive fire prevention tactics like installing fire breaks.

“That should speak loudly to the need for management and need for everyone to pay attention,” Garcia said. “The shape things are in, they can’t just be left without some sort of maintenance.”

Hannah Kerner, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, was in Hawaii recently to help bring data into the discussion. “I’m a researcher and studying AI and machine learning algorithms for taking satellite data,” she said.

Kerner mashed the satellite images and sensing data to map areas by dryness, which could help target the first areas work on.

“You can look at things like how close these dry areas are to you know, towns or homes, certain types of of other kinds of land cover and land use,” Kerner said.

“Government or other community organizations could use data like this to understand which areas might be at greatest risk of wildfires and of burning.”

Garcia said they identified the areas to clear based on history.

“We knew it was a fire hazard, because our farm the month before had almost burned, and we had to fight that,” he said. “And so we were very paranoid and also being responsible land managers. This is something that hasn’t been done or looked at by anyone in like 30 years.”