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Ohia Death Spreads On Hawaii Island


State officials say the fungal disease called Rapid ‘?hi‘a Death is continuing to threaten native ‘?hi‘a trees on the Big Island. '?hi'a covers about 865,000 acres statewide. Recent surveys show the disease has now impacted nearly 50,000 acres on the Big Island, an increase of a little more than a third from earlier this year.

Molly Solomon
Credit Molly Solomon

But the new data reveals the disease has not spread to other islands. J.B. Friday, an extension forester with the University of Hawai‘i, remained optimistic about containing the disease.

"The spread on the Big Island happened before we knew what was going on," said Friday, who emphasized that this was the first time the disease had been found in ‘?hi‘a. "So it spread quite widely before we knew what was going on."

"We continue to test possible trees from other islands. We've tested dozens of samples so far," he said, explaining that none had come up positive for Rapid ‘?hi‘a Death. "But if one does turn up positive, we'll be implementing measures to stop it from spreading from there."

‘?hi‘a is critical to Hawai‘i’s native ecosystem, especially the island’s water source. It also provides habitat for native birds and species. The tree and its blossom, ‘?hi‘a lehua, is also culturally important to Native Hawaiians.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources plans to continue aerial surveys twice a year across the state. Last year the state Department of Agriculture issues a temporary quarantine rule, banning interisland transport of the wood without a permit. The DOA is now deciding whether to make that rule permanent.

A video on Rapid ‘?hi‘a Death from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources:">Rapid Ohia Death Statewide Survey Results from">Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

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