Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death, a mysterious disease, has already killed hundreds of thousands of Hawaii’s iconic and native ‘ohi‘a, the backbone of Hawaii’s native forests and watersheds, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. While the deaths are contained within the Big Island, scientist are warning the disease could spread to other islands, causing substantial harm to the state’s native forest ecosystem.
Last August, For Kaua‘i Magazine published an article by Ruby Pap, warning the rapid-spreading disease had affected more than 6,000 acres on the Big Island, from Kalapana to Hilo, with tree stands showing a mortality rate greater than 50 percent. The disease was first observed a couple years ago in Hilo and Puna districts, according to Pap’s article. Within a few weeks of becoming infected, a tree can be killed by the disease.
“ROD is caused by a fungus called Ceratocystis fimbriata. This disease is new to Hawai‘i and the strain of fungus infecting ‘ohi‘a, has never been described before. While apparently only impacting Big Island forests currently, this has the potential of spreading statewide, so it’s critically important we do everything to stop it,” said Dr. J.B. Friday of the University of Hawai‘i Cooperative Extension Service.
Numerous state and federal agencies have partnered to develop up-to-date information about Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death that will help minimize further spread and give researchers time to find answers and develop potential treatments. Scientists say new information is being uncovered nearly on a weekly basis.
DLNR Chair Suzanne Case, along with Dept. of Agriculture (HDOA) Chair Scott Enright are two of the top state officials engaged in the battle against Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death.
“‘Ohi‘a trees cover more than one million acres statewide and ‘ohi‘a is widely considered the most important forest tree in Hawai‘i. They are so important for protecting our forest watersheds that it’s necessary our approach to combating this disease involves the highest levels of government and includes non-government agencies and private partners that can provide additional resources and expertise,” Case said.
The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, in cooperation with the UH Cooperative Extension Service of the College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources, and the US Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service & USDA Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry have produced a brochure and rack card on Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death. In addition, DLNR has produced a video version of the brochure now available on state, federal and social media websites https://vimeo.com/149782586
“Many think this is only an issue on Hawai‘i Island. However, this disease is a threat to all ‘ohi‘a trees across the state. The Department of Agriculture has already instituted a quarantine rule which prohibits interisland movement of ‘ohi‘a plant and plant parts without inspection and a permit. Everyone must be vigilant, especially those who transport ‘ohi‘a trees inter-island and on Hawai‘i Island,” said HDOA Chair Scott Enright.
The quarantine rules, along with symptoms of the disease and five things everyone can do to prevent Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death spread are outlined in the brochure, in the video, and on a website and Facebook page established to raise awareness and provide the latest information.
‘Ohi‘a is widely used in lei for events like the Merry Monarch Festival. In 2016 the agencies and its partners expect to release follow-up information on traditional and cultural uses of ‘ohi‘a, and how people can use lehua without spreading Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death.
“With the help from nurseries, anyone traveling in, working in, or harvesting in the forest and people who transport ‘ōhi‘a, we stand a chance of stopping Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death in its tracks. Without this concerted, interagency effort, the impacts could be devastating,” said Dr. Flint Hughes of the USDA Forest Service.