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Albizia fight to go on in 2022: BIISC hopes to obtain new funding to clear invasive trees

The ongoing war against albizia trees will continue in Puna next year after a lean 2021.

The Big Island Invasive Species Committee has been combating albizias for years, having been awarded a $300,000 grant from the state in 2020 to clear the invasive trees from Kahakai Boulevard in Hawaiian Beaches.

However, that money only went so far, said BIISC spokeswoman Franny Brewer.

“We went as far as we could until the money ran out,” Brewer said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic led to funding cuts that have kept BIISC short-staffed ever since.

The pandemic also curtailed group tree-clearing activities, Brewer said, which has led to albizia saplings emerging in areas that were previously cleared of the trees.

Brewer said BIISC hopes to receive additional grant funding from the state next year to clear the remainder of the trees lining Kahakai, which has become, since the 2018 Kilauea eruption, a vital artery for people living on Government Beach Road.

So far, she said, BIISC has only been able to clear a short portion of the road north of its intersection with Pahoa Bypass Road, and the road is more than five miles long.

But even with additional funding, BIISC faces an uphill battle against albizias. Many of the trees along Kahakai Boulevard simply cannot be removed because they grow on private property.

Albizias are especially pernicious trees because of their particularly brittle branches. The trees shed branches easily, which can cause substantial damage to nearby infrastructure. Brewer said Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014 inflicted hurricane-level damage throughout Puna thanks to the abundance of albizias.

Hawaiian Electric spokeswoman Kristin Okinaka said the power outages that accompanied the “Kona low” storms that struck the island in early December were caused in significant part by fallen albizias, although she added that the albizia damage was not as extensive as it has been following previous storms.

Brewer said BIISC asks landowners whose albizias threaten public infrastructure for permission to remove the trees at no cost to the landowner, although in cases where the landowner does not live on the island, such permission can be difficult to obtain.

Okinaka said Hawaiian Electric has no ability to independently remove trees outside of the narrow easement allowed to the company.

On the other hand, Brewer strongly cautioned against landowners taking matters into their own hands.

“There are some people who are desperate to remove their trees, but they’re using methods intended for remote trees that aren’t a danger,” Brewer said.

The simplest method of destroying an albizia — cutting a notch in the bark with a hatchet and applying a small amount of herbicide — kills the tree quickly, but also accelerates the rate at which it drops its branches.

“Some people might say, ‘Oh, well, they were going to drop their branches anyway,’” Brewer said. “And that’s true, but a standing dead tree will drop its branches soon.”

In cases where structures like roads, power lines or buildings are within a tree’s falling radius, Brewer recommended that property owners consult arborists, which is can be expensive.

Brewer said there is an inverse correlation between the density of albizias and the economic bracket of a region. “People with more money can afford to remove their trees,” Brewer said.

Brewer said BIISC is discussing with county officials a potential program whereby property owners can apply for grants to hire arborists to remove trees on their properties, but added that those discussions are very early.

Meanwhile, Brewer said BIISC intends to consult with Hawaiian Electric, the county Department of Public Works, the state Department of Transportation, and various subdivision community associations in 2022 to identify other corridors across the island that need to be kept clear of the trees.

Email Michael Brestovansky at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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