o. e of the loveliest and largest ahupua'a, or ancient land divisions, on all of Hawai'i Island was a place called Pu'uwa'awa'a, Hawaiian for Furrowed Hill, located on the northern slope of the ancient volcano Hualaa-lai. Stretching from shore to mountain, as these ahupua'a usually did, the uplands of Pu'uwa'awa'a included expanses of open fields interspersed with islands of trees and bordered by rich native forests.
If the scattered historical reports are any indication, the forests of Pu'uwa'awa'a were a veritable delight for the 'alala. As one of the only remaining Hawaiian native dry forests surviving into the twentieth century, Pu'uwa'awa'a represented one of the world's rarest of ecological jewels. This sub-cloud forest terrain may also have been among the best feeding habitats the 'alala ever knew, as it was rich in many fruits.
The district's most prominent feature is a huge cinder cone mound, pushed by volcanic forces out of Hualalai's northern slope more than a hundred thousand years ago. Over the millennia, before magnificent forests and their tangle of roots had time to grasp the rocky volcanic earth, the slopes had eroded into a series of deep gullies, like pleats of a taffeta gown. White settlers called the mound Muffin Hill. Pu'uwa'awa'a might have remained a reminder of what even a land of volcanic stone can become, given enough time and tended only by sunlight, rain, plants, and animals. Today, instead, it stands as a monument to a man who helped to destroy what he could not create.
For thousands of years prior to the modern calamity that has befallen Pu'uwa'awa'a and the 'alala living there, forests of almost indescribably intricate patterns and designs grew there. In 1913, Joseph F. Rock, sometimes referred to as the father of Hawaiian botany, called these forests of Pu'uwa'awa'a "the richest floral section of any in the whole Territory." In 1932, the botanist C. S. Judd called them a "botanical mine" and wrote, "For some reason or other, known only to Providence, our rarer and interesting native trees have been concentrated in certain places where they form a veritable bonanza for the delight of the delving botanist."
It was in the vicinity of Pu'uwa'awa'a, on April 11, 1941, that the ornithologist Paul H. Baldwin saw his first 'alalaa. "A crow was heard to give a two-tone 'caw', quite unlike the raucous 'caws' of California crows," he reported. Three years later, he hiked across the northern side of Hualalai with ranger Arthur L. Mitchell, who lamented even then the sad decline of the once beautiful native dry forests. Nevertheless, Baldwin reported that "many sightings" were made of the crows, which were "conspicuously present from 3750 feet upwards in the vicinity of the cinder cone Poohohoo." He continued:
The 'alala were quite tame on the forested northern slope of Hualalai. They exhibited enough curiosity and lack of fear to come to trees 20 feet from us while we sat under 'ohi'a trees. They would retire then to 30 feet away and remain 10 minutes or so looking us over. . . . They originally caught sight of us while soaring over the trees, came down, and without hesitation dropped in close. Their manner expressed great curiosity, especially when we talked or handled carrots, notebooks or lunches. The one seen at 6300 feet erected his forehead and crown feathers when perched but flattened them when he took off in flight.
Baldwin's hikes in the region took him through open country in which thimbleberries abounded, whose fruit, Baldwin surmised, was a principal food of the 'alalaa. "Some trees with berries were present, notably kolea . . . which was common, and 'olapa . . . less common. At least four crows flew around overhead at 8 a.m. by twos and threes calling frequently," he wrote. "The trail continued upward and westward to the 'tank' hill (4300 ft.) and emerged into dry koa . . . forest suddenly; here and to the northeast there was less thimbleberry, and the crows were lacking."
At one point, near Pu'uwa'awa'a, Baldwin and Mitchell encountered "a healthy population of the scarlet, sweet-melodied apa-pane and numerous iiwi." As for the 'alala, "we saw six to eight on the way up. At the summit two crows flew up and over the cone immediately adjacent to Hainoa Crater, putting their range up to the top of the mountain at 8250 ft." Because Pu'uwa'awa'a happened to be spared from the lava flows of Hualalai, a collection of rare and unusual species had taken root, grown, and thrived there —trunks, bark, stems, and leaves of improbable textures, shapes, colors, and scents, bearing fruits and flowers of orange, yellow, and stunning crimson, seeds and pods in a fantastic variety of shapes and sizes, and textures and densities of wood to suit the imagination.
Among many others there was the lama, a native persimmon, in winter garlanded with a bright reddish yellow fruit that was sought by the native Hawaiians and the 'alala alike. Often found in the dry forest in the company of the lama was the ho'awa, which Rock saw "loaded" with fruit. Around 1909, he found abundant 'alala near
Pu'uwa'awa'a, industriously mining the seed capsules. "Nearly 80 percent of all the capsules of this species examined by the writer were eaten out by these birds, which are still very common."
While the 'alala did not eat the seeds or fruit of every tree, each played a part in helping to create the understory, protective canopy, or other habitat in which the raven lived. And what the 'alala did not use, the Hawaiians probably did—or read in it signs.
There was also the thorny wiliwili, bursting in spring with clusters of claw-shaped light orange, green, or blood red flowers with bright orange seeds; the naio, with fragrant pink blossoms and with seeds so hard that when the Kona grosbeak finch— a species that has long since vanished—cracked them with its immense beak, the sound ricocheted through the forest; the hau kuahiwi, already extremely rare when Rock visited the lava fields of Hualalai in 1909 (specimens today can be found only in botanical gardens or under cultivation); and the native red cotton tree with its bright red flowers. Like the hau kuahiwi, today the once common cotton tree survives only in botanical gardens. The 'aiea, whose globose orange fruit was favored by the 'alalaa, produced a sticky sap that early Hawaiians applied to branches to catch birds.
By 1910, cattle, sheep, pigs, and other mammals had already destroyed much of the forest. Clearing of the land and logging also played a role. And so went the story of decline for many forests in Hawai'i—and with them the bird species that once thrived. But Pu'uwa'awa'a was singular in that much of its spectacular diversity remained late into the 1900s. And it was tragic in the premeditated means by which much of what remained was recently destroyed.
These forests of Pu'uwa'awa'a were as slow growing as they were diverse, and like human elders, the ancient trees were among the first to go in the face of physical stress. And because they grew slowly, the dry forests were also slower to recover from disruption than the higher cloud forests.
While the native dry forests had been shrinking ever since the arrival of the first Polynesians, even in the 1950s L. P. Richards reported that the 'alala were "quite plentiful" around Pu'uwa-'awa'a. Once he saw eight and heard a dozen more on the ranch. Up to this time 'alala also commonly nested in the dry 'ohi'a belt and up to the base of a place called Potato Hill, a few miles south of the Furrowed Hill.
While often cited in the literature as a major modern problem for the 'alalaa, the elimination of the forest understory actually began centuries ago. In 1794, British explorer George Vancouver brought several cattle to the island of Hawai'i, and the king at the time, Kamehameha the Great, released them on the slopes of Hualalai above the town of Kailua and placed a ten-year kapu, or prohibition, on them, allowing them to freely breed. Descendants of these cattle have lived in the forests there ever since. Botanist C. S. Judd wrote, "The toothsome 'ie'ie vines, the ti and banana plants, some of the ferns and native grasses afforded very attractive pasturage for the descendants of the cattle."
Not long after Cook's visit, seafaring traders discovered the alluringly fragrant sandalwood in the dry forests, and there was such a rush by Hawaiians to harvest and sell the trees that the taro fields suffered for want of workers. On Hawai'i Island, one missionary reported meeting a chief with about four hundred people returning with sandalwood trees. Elsewhere, mention is made of parties three thousand strong gathering sandalwood in parts of the island. By the mid-i800s, the largest accessible trees had been cut. Then, with the arrival of whaling vessels beginning in the 1800s, the forests were further exploited for timber to repair ships; fiber plants such as the olona, prized by the whalers for harpoon lines; and other products.
While there were no recorded observations, let alone formal studies, during the time that described adverse effects upon the
'alala, one can surmise that many of the bird species in these heavily logged areas had already seen their better days.
In the wake of logged sandalwood, by 1850 the abundance of free-ranging cattle supported "boiling plants" for the extraction of tallow, the only part of the animal, besides the hide, having any value. Fire-fueling exotic grasses overran the cleared or grazed lands. Goats and sheep browsed on trees and bushes and, like cattle, prevented regeneration of koa trees and wiped out many native understory plants. It was as if the underbrush had been cleared to create a shaded park.
Since the late 1800s, cattle, sheep, and goats had freely grazed more than a hundred thousand acres of Pu'uwa'awa'a. Even in the late 1950s, the commissioner of public lands of the Territory of Hawai'i argued that, with proper actions, the "carrying capacity" of the area could be increased by a thousand head of cattle. "In general, this area needs more sunlight by clearing out more of the native trees in some areas and elimination of dense patches of brush weeds in other areas," he wrote. Many of his recommendations were carried out.
Despite the terrible toll, patches of native forest perservered, and in 1905 District Forester J. A. Maguire for the first time argued for their protection. Maguire knew that ranchers would never cede private land for protection, but he reckoned that state-owned land could "be easily reserved."
There are many time gaps in the history of Hawaiian ornithology often spanning decades, voids of knowledge, the consequence ofwar and other events that curtailed travel to the islands. And so it was that Pu'uwa'awa'a was subsequently forgotten.
Then in 1945, as World War II wound down and the island again became a subject of biological interest, Arthur L. Mitchell echoed in a National Park Service report that many plants and trees at Pu'uwa'awa'a were the last of their kind. He argued, "Ifwe are to be assured of success in preserving these tree species, it seems as if the only solution will be to protect these trees in their natural habitat." The National Park Service recommended "that an area be selected of fifty to one hundred acres where a representative population of native trees exists and be turned into a 'Sanctuary of Native Trees.' ... It will afford a place where native species can be replanted or encouraged to propagate themselves." Despite the ravages thus far, such a reserve would also have been the first safe haven for the dwindling 'alalaa.
Much of the land was owned by the state — including a sprawling and breathtaking area known as Pu'uwa'awa'a Ranch. Reclass-ifying the land to protected status would have cost little. The gesture would have stood for more than protecting plants and animals alone. The establishment of a sanctuary—the word comes from the Hebrew for a sacred place set aside for God—would have signaled an intent that the early Hawaiians would have appreciated: land as a source of spirit rather than material profit alone.
But such a sanctuary was not to be, and cattle, sheep, and feral pigs continued to freely roam. With logging, ranching, and other activities making money, voices on behalf of the area's native plants and animals were barely audible. The long history of stateassisted destruction of Pu'uwa'awa'a continued.
Then, in 1972, F. Newell Bohnett, cofounder of the once popular Sambo's restaurants, leased 108,000 acres of Pu'uwa'awa'a Ranch from DLNR. The tract encompassed almost all of the most biologically sensitive areas in the region, including some of the most valuable remaining 'alala habitat. The lease, in word, prohibited Bohnett from making any change to the land not directly related to improving pasture. Even then, any alteration of the land required DLNR's prior permission. Improvements that increased the value of the property would also lead to a commensurate increase in leasing fees. Fallen trees in pastureland could be removed, but logging within the forest was prohibited, and selling of any timber was illegal. No sooner had Bohnett signed the lease than he began "improving" the ranch.
In 2000 and 2001, editor and reporter Patricia Tummons conducted a painstaking investigation of Bohnett's activities at Pu'u-wa'awa'a. She told of his land depredations in a series of articles in the newsletter she founded, Environment Hawai'i. If the forests were already in decline by the time Bohnett gained control, giving him stewardship was, according to Tummons, like "entrusting the welfare of a beloved invalid, whose best hope for recovery depends on tender care and aggressive medical treatment, to Jack the Ripper." She called the Furrowed Hill the Hill of Sorrows.
In early 1976, Bohnett cut a fence line right through a koa forest and the heart of the important breeding area of the region's 'alala and cleared extensively on both sides of the cut, without having obtained the required permit. Paul Banko had been monitoring 'alala in the immediate vicinity. One pair built a nest in 1974 and produced three chicks, with one fledgling surviving. In 1975, the pair built a second nest less than a quarter mile from the first one and produced yet another fledgling. When Banko visited the site on May 26, 1976, after the cut had been completed, he was shocked to find that "the territory has been bisected with a new 150-200 foot bulldozer cut & fenceline. . . . [The] 1974 nest tree still stands but [the] 1975 tree apparently has been destroyed." The next morning, however, Banko was able to locate the intrepid pair, in yet a third new nest about a half mile from the old one. In mid-June, he returned to find the female of the pair sitting in the empty nest. In late July, he returned and heard the pair calling some distance from the still barren nest. It was the last nesting pair ever reported seen at Pu'uwa'awa'a.
Faced with continuing, if less dramatic, decline of habitat elsewhere, by 1974 only two 'alala were documented on Hualalai, the ancient volcano on whose slope the bulge of Pu'uwa'awa'a was located. And by every indication, the remaining population on the island was rapidly collapsing.
Bohnett then cleared land for a paved airstrip and built a seven-million-gallon reservoir without notifying the state, let alone obtaining the required written permission. Bohnett maintained that his actions were legal because they were all in the interest of improving pasturage. His only fault, he said, was in overlooking a technicality—getting the state's written permission.
Herbert K. Yanamura, an agricultural specialist with the Division of Land Management (DLM)—the division of DLNR responsible for managing land leases — inspected the ranch and confirmed that the construction, including that of the reservoir, paved airstrip, and new airplane hangars, had been done without permission.
Yanamura was also baffled by why such a huge water supply and large delivery pipe were needed for "irrigation," as Bohnett claimed. The proposed irrigation site wasn't even located on the ranch; rather, it was on an adjacent twenty-acre tract privately owned by Bohnett.
According to Tummons, with the unauthorized work already completed, DLM asked Bohnett merely to submit plans for the improvements — after the fact. A few weeks later District Forester Tom K. Tagawa wrote to DLNR's deputy director dismissing Yanamura's complaints and recommending that "the matter be filed."
When former state representative Jean King, long an advocate of protecting Pu'uwa'awa'a, heard of the suspicious goings-on, she pressed DLNR for an explanation. Tagawa drafted a response to King for Christopher Dobb, DLNR's chair, to finalize and sign. In a cover memo to this draft, Tagawa—whose motives for protecting Bohnett remain a mystery—wrote, "We believe that this response to Senator Jean King will answer her request without providing her details of the circumstances surrounding the unauthorized improvements being made by Pu'uwa'awa'a Ranch."
The lease gave the state the right to conduct research on the ranch, with or without the lessee's permission. Nevertheless, as a neighborly gesture, in 1976 DLNR biologist Jon Giffin wrote to Bohnett seeking permission to look for 'alala that might remain at Pu'uwa'awa'a. Bohnett immediately wrote to Ernest Kosaka, who by now had risen in the ranks and become Giffin's boss at DLNR, okaying the research but instructing Kosaka to "please contact your friend Giffin and suggest he keep his findings quiet, until we can find out if our crows here are actually an asset to the area or a liability." Bohnett had already concluded, "They are still killing crows in Iowa because of the damage they do to crops. So why are we so overly concerned over their preservation in Hawaii?" In Bohnett's view, apparently, disappearance of the birds would only prove that the 'alalaa was an unfit contender in the modern world. As reported in the newspaper West Hawaii Today, Bohnett believed that "grazing of cattle was in accordance with the theory of evolution's basic premise of survival of the fittest—which he thinks the conservationists must believe in — [and] was working in that cows are stronger than the crows."
In 1978, the Natural Area Reserves System Commission, established by state legislation in 1971 to advise DLNR on conservation matters, proposed a 3,300-acre sanctuary at Pu'uwa'awa'a Ranch — a small fraction of the leased land. In response, Bohnett bitterly complained to DLNR: "I do not know what these plants look like, nor do I know their location. I am certain that the beauty of our area would not be [affected] in the least if these plants did not exist. This proposal is a classic example of an irresponsible suggestion by an overzealous bureaucrat that has gotten completely out of hand." Setting aside land was a "sacrifice that is too great a price to pay for the pleasure of such a small interest group." DLNR summarily rejected the sanctuary recommendation.
In 1979 Bohnett gave a friend permission to harvest koa on the ranch, permission that was not legally his to give. Such illegal incursions were reported to DLNR in September 1982, but that was not exactly news within the agency. Jon Giffin, the biologist who was conducting the 'alalaa census, had already reported that " 'Alala habitat at Pu'uwa'awa'a Ranch was seriously damaged as a result of the koa harvesting. Both dead and live trees were removed and skid trails cut. . . . This operation effectively destroyed the only known 'alala nesting site on the ranch. Native forest vegetation at Pu'uwa'awa'a deteriorated to a point that it is unlikely that crows will nest there again."
In April 1983, state wildlife biologist Ronald Bachman wrote to his superiors that "rather serious and extensive habitat alteration has occurred within the koa belt as a result of logging and clearing in the area." He also wrote in a memo to the files that hundreds of acres were involved, that native understory was being bulldozed, and that a portable sawmill had been set up. Trees were being sawn into planks and shipped to Honolulu. Bohnett was receiving a share of the profits.
Not until August 1983 — a decade after the lease had been signed —did DLNR issue its first warning. "You are hereby ordered to immediately stop all koa logging operations on land covered by the subject lease and on land classified as a conservation district," DLNR chair Susumu Ono wrote. A few days later, Bohnett replied, curiously: "We received your letter ... in which you recommend that we cease 'logging' operations . . . logging will cease until we can get official approval from your department."
On November 10, 1983, Ono shot back: "We sincerely urge that you discontinue the logging of koa. . . . Should you disregard this request, we may have no recourse but to institute termination proceedings for breach of lease conditions."
Two months later, state biologists were still finding "evidence of recent logging activity," including a new logging road and fresh stumps of cut koa trees. Not until September 1984, though, did DLNR vote to remove 80,000 of the 108,000 acres covered by his lease. Bohnett paid the state a penalty of $34,600 for 173 trees that had been illegally cut and another $8,541 for the commercial value of the logged trees. DLNR also voted to set aside between three thousand and four thousand acres traditionally used for nesting by the 'alala. But by that time, the only 'alala remaining in the area was a single aged female.
With the withdrawal of land from Bohnett's lease, Natural Area Reserves System (NARS) commissioner P. Quentin Tomich was sure that the dream of a sanctuary for native plants, first suggested nearly eighty years before, was at hand: "I felt comfortable and confident," he wrote after submitting a proposal. But DLNR rejected the idea and recommended only that Bohnett "give his full cooperation" to working with NARS to build fences around individual rare trees.
Bohnett then requested and received from the district planning commission approval to build a road from the main highway to his private twenty acres—the land to which he had earlier built the illegal pipeline to deliver water from the illegal reservoir. In his request for the road easement, Bohnett revealed his master plan: a subdivision of luxury houses on his private, water-poor parcel. The "irrigation" pipe would bring water from the ranch to his new luxury housing development, which he would call Pu'ulani, Hawaiian for Heavenly Hill.
The Honolulu Advertiser reported that Bohnett later "told the Land Board he had 'admittedly been indiscreet' in doing things with the land. But such indiscretions were because of his role as 'a doer.'" In November 1984 Bohnett took out a full-page advertisement in West Hawaii Today, addressed to the people of Kona, asserting that his "most serious concern is for those of you who desire to have a better and financially independent Kona."
If his alleged concern lived, dreams of a sanctuary for native plants and the 'alalaa at Pu'uwa'awa'a would not. On September 6, i986, between half past three and four o'clock in the morning, three suspicious fires were set at different places in the vicinity of Pu'uwa'awa'a, in the dry brush just below the Maui scenic lookout along the main road. By the time the fire was brought under control, three days later, among the last remaining tracts of native dry forest in the Hawaiian Islands lay smoldering. Today the area has a few lonesome lama and wiliwili trees, thick tussocks of alien fountain grass that quickly invaded after the fire, and a parched land that will almost certainly never again welcome the 'alala.
By then, only a few 'alala stragglers still came and went about Pu'uwa'awa'a Ranch. There was momentary hope in 1990, when an 'alala was unexpectedly spotted there. A July 7 headline in the Honolulu Advertiser reported, "Holdout crow spotted: Pu'uwa-'awa'a discovery is big surprise." The bird's presence was not so much a hope as a sad reminder: one more sighting of the same aged female who briefly came to visit her old nesting grounds.
With the birds all but gone at Pu'uwa'awa'a, they fared little better elsewhere on Hualaalai. And they continued to decline on Mauna Loa, fifteen miles to the south. By 1990, fewer than a dozen 'alalaa remained in the wild.
Late on a winter afternoon in i998, driving along State Highway i90 toward Pu'uwa'awa'a, I think of my journey into the world of the 'alala and how far I have traveled since first reading about the bird. More than ten years later, driving toward the Furrowed Hill, I am still in pursuit.
All roads leading into the ranch are gated. So I drive to Pu'ulani, the site of Bohnett's luxury development. As luck would have it, real estate agents are holding open house, and the gate is open. The crowds of visitors will hide my wandering presence. At the far end of the partially built development, I drive around the chain posts of an unpaved road. Worried about drawing attention, I park in a secluded spot behind a half-built mansion. From here the Furrowed Hill is visible several miles away. A detailed topographical map before me, I identify certain features of the landscape, including the paved landing strip. I mark my parking spot on the map and with my compass calculate a bearing toward the summit. With evening approaching, I fear becoming lost in the dark in a land of wild pigs and feral dogs. I park the car facing Pu'uwa'awa'a, activate the emergency blinkers, and, in an abundance of caution, carefully position a sheet of plywood to conceal the back blinkers. With front beacons to lead me home, I set out down a steep hill with map, compass, flashlight, and bottled water in a day pack.
The hillside underbrush is a mix of exotic brushes and trees clinging to a steep slope that has apparently eluded cattle or other grazers. I burrow my head in my nylon parka and blindly plow through the brush, whacking my head on large branches and against a tree. After an hour of bushwhacking, the landscape opens up. It is easy going through the pasture toward the massive cinder cone. It is another hour before the ground steepens underfoot. The sun has already fallen behind the steep slope I earlier descended. There is little time. I struggle up the steep hillside, gaining perhaps only a couple hundred feet before late evening convinces me to return. The rolling hills sweep toward Kawaihae Bay. Exhausted, I lie in the grass.
My eyes open to a sky of diamond dust. My heart pounds. Startled by a sudden baying of dogs, I lunge up. The water bottle in the crook of my arm flies off into the darkness. I dash down the slope. I drop my parka and my feet get tangled in it, sending me flying. The baying of dogs surrounds me, and I expect to feel teeth puncturing my leg. There is nothing but a small tree ahead. I climb the trunk, which bows under my weight, and soon the baying ceases. I scan the horizon for the top of the hill I had first descended. I slide down the tree and search for a stick to fend off any attacking dogs. The barking begins anew. I sprint toward the beckoning lights high in the distance. Soon I am at the brush-covered slope leading up Heavenly Hill. By now the baying has receded into the distance, but I still have to struggle through the brush, now exhausted by fear and physical exertion.
When I reachthe car, blood pumps audibly through my temples. The lights of the ranch's outbuildings below glow faintly. There is the outline of Pu'uwa'awa'a's rounded summit under starlight. Canis Major wheels overhead. I climb into the car and rest my head on the steering wheel. My body shakes, and I realize that all I have learned ofBohnett and Pu'uwa'awa'a must have become manifest as a profound physical fear. My mind keeps turning over lines from the Kumulipo:
Fear falls upon me on the mountain top
Fear of the passing night
Fear of the night approaching
Fear of the pregnant night
Fear of the breach of the law
Dread of the place of offering and the narrow trail
Dread of the food and the waste part remaining
The gate to Heavenly Hill has not been closed, and I drive out and down to the scenic overlook a few miles along the main road. Across the 'Alenuihaha Channel, the faint blue face of the volcano Haleakala rises on distant Maui. I turn, my back to the sea, and stare at the naked silhouette of Pu'uwa'awa'a.
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