An excavator is seen here in Kokee preparing the ground for koa seedlings. Video grab DLNR

An excavator is seen here in Kokee preparing the ground for koa seedlings. Video grab DLNR

For the last few weeks, a large excavator has been digging hole after hole on the steep slopes of state forest reserves in the Koke‘e area of Kaua‘i. Some 3,000 acres of land were scorched during a series of wildfires there during the summer of 2012. The excavator is preparing the ground for the hand planting of 20,000 foot-tall koa seedlings.

“The site preparation, with the excavator, has been going on for the last three weeks. Now we’re planting the koa seedlings one block at a time. Each block is 2-3 acres in size. The first day of out-planting we put 1,000 seedlings in and despite hotter and dryer than normal weather conditions they appear to be doing well,” said Dustyn Hirota, of Forest Solutions Inc., a Big Island company hired to do the planting on Koke‘e.

Koa seedlings are seen her being prepared for replanting in Kokee. Video grab DLNR

Koa seedlings are seen here being prepared for replanting in Kokee. Video grab DLNR

Each day, Hirota, the company’s operations forester, has been leading three to four workers to replant the seedlings. The koa tree seeds were collected on site and then sent to Native Nursery LLC on Maui, where they were grown and carefully tended before being shipped by barge back to Kaua‘i, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The 20,000 seedlings will cover a total of 50 acres, with 400-500 trees per acre.

“This is an unprecedented attempt on state lands to reforest using native species. We hope that in time, there will be a thriving mixed-tree plantation that will serve many purposes including habitat for endangered plants and animals, forest product revenues and hunting and other recreational opportunities,” said Sheri Mann, State Forester with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.