State seeks to head off massive tree die-off on Hawaii Island

Published: Dec. 23, 2015 at 8:37 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 23, 2015 at 11:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An ohia-killing fungus on the Big Island is threatening the local ecosystem, and there's no known cure for it.

"Worst-case scenario is it spreads statewide and decimates all our ohia forests. It's a pretty bleak picture," said Rob Hauff, the state's forest health coordinator.

State officials are trying to head off that bleak future with enhanced surveying and by asking for the public's health in containing the fungus.

Rapid ohia death has already resulted in thousands of trees dying in the Puna district. It's now been detected in Kona and Kau.

In 2014, when the most recent survey was conducted, "We found 6,000 acres that had over 50 percent of the ohia trees dead. We know it's increased its range since then," Hauff said.

The state is planning to conduct a new survey in the coming months.

The ramifications of a massive die-off are dire.

"If you lose this core part of the forest, you're threatening to lose the integrity of the forest that holds the water which is so fundamental to providing water for our watersheds," said Suzanne Case, chairwoman of the Board of Land and Resources.

For now, the state is trying to contain the outbreak by urging forest goers to do the following:

  • Don't move any ohia, especially from areas known to have Rapid Ohi’a Death.
  • Don't transport any ohia inter-island.
  • Clean all tools used in tree cutting. Tools used should be cleaned with 70 percent rubbing alcohol or 10 percent bleach.
  • Clean gear including boots and clothing, and wash your vehicle.

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