Despite having the state’s highest population, the island of Oahu has largely been spared from a wide-spread outbreak of the fungal disease known as ‘Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death.’ Last week, a single tree was found afflicted by a less virulent strain of the fungus, C. huliohia, bringing the total number of affected trees on the island to five.
The infected tree was spotted by staff from the Oahu branch of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife, located near the popular Poamoho trail.
Because of its proximity to human activity, the state decided to close the trail until the tree can be removed. That is expected to happen sometime this week, and crews will also conduct sampling of surrounding trees to ensure that the fungus has not spread.
State Protection Forester Rob Hauff reminds people who enter forests anywhere in the state to practice clean hiking habits because the more aggressive strain, C. lukuohia, has not yet been detected on Oahu.
Some trailheads have boot disinfecting stations, but Hauff encourages everyone to clean their boots, equipment, and vehicles, no matter the location and every time you enter the forest.
“We are taking a cautious and conservative approach toward removing the latest infected tree because Poamoho is a critical watershed and home to numerous endangered or threatened plants and animals,” Hauff said. “We want to be sure someone doesn’t inadvertently spread Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death beyond this single ōhiʻa.”
State foresters are appreciative of continued information from people who are reporting possible infections.
Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death was first detected on Hawaii Island in 2014. Land managers and scientists have been engaged in a six-year-long project to identify the cause of the disease and hope to ultimately discover a treatment.
On the Big Island it has killed or injured hundreds of thousands of trees, with one or the other of the two strains of the fungus now detected on Kauai, Maui, and Oahu. Regular aerial and ground surveys of ʻōhiʻa-dominated forests continue. The species is considered the most important endemic tree in the state, comprising approximately 80 percent of Hawaii’s native forests.