Local Lowdown: Nurturing The Native Forests of O’ahu

Not your average “tree killer,” learn how Paul Zweng saves and restores the tropical forests of O’ahu by killing harmful trees.

We know that environmental change is inevitable.  Certainly, man erects superstores in the suburbs, and paves paradise for the proverbial parking lot. Sometimes, though, it’s harder to detect when a “natural” habitat is not natural at all – when invasive species of plants have been introduced and overrun the native plant life. Returning the land to its “pure” state, then, requires killing off a whole lot of plant life,  which seems to run counter to most people’s ideas of environmentalism.
Oahu Nature 1Paul Zweng has dedicated his life to this goal, and has raised a lot of eyebrows in the process. Working one day at a time to restore the pristine beauty of O’ahu’s original plant life and prevent the extinction of native Hawaiian forests by killing harmful trees.  Not your average “tree killer,” Paul Zweng kills the invasive trees so that the native species can take root and spread, as the New York Times originally reported. “When we kill the invasive trees, the forest starts to heal itself.  The forest is naturally re-generating itself by us cutting out the bad trees,” he explains in the video below.

Every day, Paul Zweng gathers all the volunteers he can to join him in his pursuit of saving and restoring the tropical forests of O’ahu.  Native trees and flowers are poisoned, suffocated and slowly disappearing because of invasive albizia trees, which Paul and his team work daily to remove.
Mr. Zweng’s efforts are not the first in keeping Hawaii the country. In the 1970s, members of the Waikane Community Association blockaded the highway to keep bulldozers from encroaching their way of life for the creation of condos and suburbia.

Oahu Nature 2Mr. Zweng has poisoned 356 towering albizia and 1,293 schefflera trees, injecting herbicides directly into into their trunks, so the trees die and eventually collapse without too much collateral damage. When the Kama’aina of O’ahu (the longtime residents) learn of Mr Zweng’s “development” plans, they are often shocked until he explains the reason behind his plan. Hawaiians have come to love the large,canopied umbrella trees that he is working so hard to kill, particularly the towering albizia, even though they are among the worst bullies of these forests. “I used to love them,too,” he said. “But now I know how much damage they do.”

Hawaii Nature 3Ironically, even Hawaii’s state tree, the kukui (Aleurites moluccana), is not a native species to the islands; it’s a Polynesian import. Zweng kills them, too, because their growth impedes upon the dwindling number of native species like the koa, ohia and lama trees.

“We’re not interested in building hotels or golf courses, we’re focused on forest restoration,” Zweng says. ”The project is ongoing, it’s an endless pursuit,” of his dream of restoring the forest to its natural state, before 20,000 kinds of invasive plants and animals arrived on the island.
Read the full New York Times article here to learn more about Paul Zweng’s efforts towards restoring Oahu’s natural habitat.


All images courtesy the New York Times.