HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A fungal infestation has now spread to 34,000 acres of ohia forest on the Big Island, more than double the acreage the state had estimated in 2014.
The new numbers are based on aerial surveys conducted earlier this month.
The state's estimate of 15,000 acres affected by the infestation was based on satellite imagery conducted in 2014.
The figures put new urgency to a problem that threatens to kill wide swaths of ohia forests.
"Unfortunately, rapid ohia death is spreading much quicker than we had hoped," said Flint Hughes, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
A team of federal and state experts conducted the aerial surveys, putting in a total of eight hours of flying time over state, federal and private land and covering about two-thirds of the Big Island's ohia forests.
Philipp LaHaela Water, of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the team wants to continue its aerial surveys to cover all ohia forests on Hawaii Island.
The team also wants to fly over the Kohala area again, where rapid ohia death may have been detected for the first time.
Ohia forests cover about 865,000 acres across the state and are vital to forest health.
"Rapid ohia death is fast killing what is considered one of the most important forest trees in Hawaii," said J.B. Friday, with the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.