Nā Pōhaku o Hauwahine




What is ecological restoration?

Before attempting to lay out the purpose of the replanting efforts at Nā Pōhaku o Hauwahine, several related terms need be defined. Ecological restoration is a complex and growing field in the discipline of ecology. The purpose of ecological restoration is to return a given landscape to some prior, presumably more biologically diverse and healthier, state. The prior state need not be one absent humans or human influences on the landscape. A recognized purpose must be, however, that the current condition is lacking self-sustainable properties or is missing elements considered otherwise valuable or necessary to sustainability of the whole, and intervention aims to restore these elements.

Aside from the problem of deciding to what point in history a restoration should aspire to achieve, restoration cannot be viewed as exactly duplicative of any prior state, were that even possible. This point is one important to grasp, because certainly in Hawai‘i—and perhaps most places in the world—some number of ecosystem elements (read certain life forms) that previously contributed, perhaps importantly, to the functioning of the natural system, cannot be restored; other introduced elements cannot be removed. The interlocking nature of species' relationships within an ecosystem make it likely that even seemingly minor missing or additive elements are generally more important than realized.<1>. We therefore take, almost as an act of faith, that arrival at some close approximation to the original ecosystem will result in a stable and self-sustaining system that preserves what ultimately comes down to those aspects of particular value to humans, whether these be conservation of a particular suite of species or a prior wilderness landscape.

What all this really means is that any attempt at ecological restoration is likely to fall short of complete success, and the best chance of restoring adversely impacted ecosystems lies with selecting systems that are minimally altered. The term, recovery is a better description of the process than restoration in such cases, with assisted recovery decribing human intervention in the process. The farther a given landscape is from what once was, the less faithful to a past state the restoration is likely to be.

"Restoration is defined as the return of an ecosystem to a close approximation of its condition prior to disturbance."
- National Research Council, Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems: Science, Technology, and Public Policy/Committee on Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems. NAS, 1992.



Wikstroemia uva-ursi A. Gray

"...two ecological concepts emerge: ecological integrity and historical fidelity. When the complicated mix of restoration practice and theory is sorted out, what is left is a concern for the quality of the ecosysms resulting from restoration (integrity) and for the extent to which they reflect the history of the place (fidelity). - Higgs, Nature by Design, p. 95

Nā Pōhaku o Hauwahine: Restoration or Gardening?

I find this question always at the forefront of how I view my activities (and those of the NPEG) at Nā Pōhaku o Hauwahine. For reasons I hope to make clear, I do not view our efforts as ecological restoration in a strict sense. On the other hand, the site is not exactly a garden either, although many of those working there view the effort more along the lines of creating a botanical garden: a place to display Hawaiian native plants. This particular view is not incompatible with our own. Having healthy native plants would characterize either approach, and rare species with little propensity to expand as a population at this location can be fine specimen plants.

So, how do we differentiate between gardening and restoration? Consider first the degree to which the outcome (or goal) matches some previously existing landscape, a concept called historicity or fidelity (see Higgs, sidebar). Two restoration "options" are worthy of consideration at this location: 1) the pre-aboriginal landscape, and 2) the pre-Cook (pre-Western) landscape. Prior to the arrival of the Polynesians some 3,500 years ago, windward O‘ahu was a very different place than it is today, or than it was at the start of Western influence following the "discovery" of the Hawaiian Islands by Captain James Cook in 1778 <2>. The Hawaiian's influence on the natural environment of the lowlands was nearly as devastating as that wrought by our current modern culture, differing however in two signifcant aspects: 1) structural landscape changes were limited to earthworks and stone works undertaken with simple hand tools and 2) non-native species introductions were limited to a few animals (pigs, rats, chickens) and culturally important plants (the aforementioned "canoe plants").

Whether the landscape in the vicinity of Nā Pōhaku o Hauwahine underwent its most dramatic changes in the centuries before Cook or after Cook, achieving any semblance of the original ecosystem—that present some 5,000+ years ago—is just no longer an option. Therefore, with respect to fidelity, we can easily admit Polynesian introductions while excluding modern plant introductions. Neither are "native" in the botanist's view, but early Polynesian introductions do have cultural significance and were very much part of the lowland, pre-Cook landscape. However, setting as a goal a mixture of native and modern introduced plants fails a historicity test of restoration and conceptualy falls to the side of gardening.

Basic principals: Succession CLICK HERE


If one believes that human activities can best improve land, then one restores in a process likened to gardening; yet if one believes that natural activities can best improve land, then one restores in a process that might be called naturalizing—or perhaps rewilding. A gardener promotes culture on a natural landscape, whereas a naturalizer promotes nature on a cultural landscape. – Marcus Hall. American Nature, Italian Culture: Restoring the Land on Two Continents, p. 43


Brian clearing a slope

•Initial stage: clearing an area of all
non-native plants. This process is repeated several times over several years at a location.


Our goal at Nā Pōhaku o Hauwahine is achieving 100% coverage by plants that are native or early Polynesian introductions over the landscape under our oversight. As we seem to be approaching a noticeable degree of success (in some areas; certainly not yet across all 12+ acres), it is appropriate to answer some basic questions on just how we are doing it.

Some common questions answered CLICK HERE






Note <1> –Extinctions or near extinctions (critically low population numbers) account for missing elements that cannot be restored; introduced species too difficult to eradicate account for "recently" added elements that must be accommodated.

Note <2> –From pollen studies on core samples, only one of the three most abundant plants domimating the pre-aboriginal landscape in the Kailua area is available to us for restoration: a‘ali‘i (Dodonaea viscosa). The other two—an unidentified lo‘ulu (Pritchardia sp.) and a very rare plant known as kanaloa (Kanaloa kahoolawensis)—cannot be used. Presumably, other O‘ahu endemic or indigenous species could be used instead as many of these would likely have occurred here. But there are other good reasons not to pursue this particular restoration goal, one being that the faunal component of the pre-aboriginal landscape simply cannot be restored.

Page last modified: November 19, 2013 by Webmaster (webguy@aecos.com). © 2010-2013. Eric B. Guinther ~ All rights reserved.