In March, 2010 a workshop, "Emerging silvicultural technologies for Acacia koa restoration" was conducted in Hilo, Hawaii. The workshop identified the need for a research and extension program in native tree breeding and silviculture to support restoration and commercial planting of this valuable native species. In October of 2010, a second workshop in Hilo was held to formally establish the Tropical HTIRC and identify major goals for the first years of activity.
Tropical HTIRC was founded in 2011 to address the most important challenges facing tropical hardwoods in Hawaii and American-affiliated tropical islands. The idea for a Tropical HTIRC was conceived in early 2010 out of a desire to invigorate hardwood tree improvement and restoration research efforts in the tropical region of the USA. The program was developed by a collaboration among Hawaii state foresters, professional foresters, university scientists, landowner associations, governmental and nongovernmental agencies and extension personnel.
The birth of the Tropical HTIRC occurred at the same time that the region was experiencing a renewed interest in afforestation and reforestation of tropical species, such as Acacia koa, on lands that had been abandoned from long standing ranching and agricultural production efforts. The hardwood industry was also concerned about the future quantity and quality of the resource for its lumber and secondary wood products sectors. In addition, due to previous land use, tropical forests have seen significant reduction in the volume of tropical hardwood timber that is harvested annually. The hardwood industry was aware that it was not taking advantage of new technologies and research that could improve wood quality, growth, production of merchantable timber, and pest and disease resistance.
The larger community of professional foresters was also concerned about loss of genetic quality in remaining native forests. They felt that trees that are currently being managed for future timber harvest do not have the same desirable traits for straightness, wood quality, and vigor and that past forest harvest practices of continually taking the “best” trees may have resulted in loss of genetic quality of the remaining germplasm.
In addition, ecologists and land managers throughout the region were becoming increasingly concerned with the ability of native ecosystems to withstand threats from invasive species and climate change. Invasive species, including plants, insect pests and diseases, continue to invade Hawaiian forests. These invaders are changing the ecological dynamics of the forest environment and threatening many native plant and animal species with extinction. The ecology of our tropical forests may be further disturbed by climate change. As a result, regeneration of target native tree species is being inhibited and native forests are being transformed into exotic-dominated forests of reduced conservation and commercial value. To address these global changes, tree improvement efforts aimed at providing improved stock can provide the conservation community with the tree genetic knowledge and resources for enhanced management of native tropical forests while simultaneously providing the forest industry with material required for enhancing forestbased economic development.
Forests are important across the tropical Pacific for ecological, economic, social and cultural values. Species such as Acacia koa are ecological, economic, and cultural keystone species because they play essential roles in the biological functioning of native ecosystems, and through the diverse array of products from koa in the identity of native Hawaiian culture. In the case of Acacia koa, this species is clearly Hawaii’s signature forest industry species. Koa is the largest tree in Hawaii and one of the most valuable timbers in the world – koa stumpage ranges from $4,000 to $5,000 (or more) per 1,000 board feet (mbf), and select koa lumber sells for $30 per board foot. Koa wood is highly desired for specialty, value-added wood products such as bowls, furniture, picture frames, and flooring, contributing about 75% of the wood for Hawaii’s $30 million/year forest industry.
For ecological, economic, social, and cultural reasons, there is growing interest in restoring forests to the degraded landscapes of Hawaii and the Pacific. Water quality has been degraded by conversion of forests to agriculture and ranching. A historic reliance on exotic tree species for planting has degraded both ecological and cultural values of the forest resource. While there have been initial planting efforts with both exotic and native species in Hawaii and across the Pacific, these efforts have had limited access to improved native species and so exotic species have been and continue to be selected over native plant species in many circumstances. Thus, the opportunity exists for greatly enhancing the role that quality native hardwood species can play in reforestation efforts in Hawaii and across the Pacific.
Many of Hawaii’s citizens are concerned about food security and food production systems have a long and rich history in the region – for example ranching and the paniolo cowboy culture are revered parts of Hawaii’s history. These social and political forces can conflict with those of the conservation community and the forest industry, but there are important mitigating attributes to an enhanced forest sector. Wood security is also an important regional concern as well as an untapped source of economic development. Ranching in Hawaii has been declining for decades in large part because it is marginally viable as a livelihood. Many consumers assign important aesthetic and spiritual values to forests and even individual trees whether they are in an urban, plantation, or natural forest setting. Critically, an enhanced forest industry would require only a marginal increase in the amount of land set aside and dedicated to reforestation. Further, many ranchers are exploring forest-based solutions to enhancing economic viability of ranch operations, and several creative restoration efforts are seeking to enhance ecological value of a landscape while producing economic value. In addition to ranching, fallow agricultural land is also available due to the demise of sugar cane production and diversified agriculture will be an important part of the future Hawaiian landscape.
In the conservation realm, there are now several funding mechanisms for conservation plantings, including the NRCS-supported Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). These programs, funded primarily by federal appropriations, plus state-funded programs such as the Forest Stewardship Program, account for the majority of private, conservation and stewardship forestry focused hardwood tree planting in Hawaii and across the Pacific. Historically, improved water quality and wildlife habitat, native species restoration and small-scale forestry have been the focal areas. In some cases, where native species are considered, the genetic characteristics of the trees being planted under these programs are unknown with important questions regarding growth, form, wood quality and survivorship – especially at elevations or in areas where native seed sources are no longer present.
While the Tropical HTIRC employs tools of modern genetics to understand target tree species, the Center will not support work that directly manipulates plant genomes and leads to creation of genetically modified organisms. We instead will rely on modern genetics to characterize existing, naturally occurring lines, and classical methods for improving these lines – the same methods used by Hawaiians to create 100+ varieties of taro.
During the first five years of Tropical HTIRC and while under the previous 2011-2016 Strategic Plan, Tropical HTIRC established important infrastructure, staffing, collaborative networks, and research / extension projects that contributed to its strategic directions and objectives. The advisory committee met annually and most research and extension outcomes were accomplished in direct collaboration with partner agencies. Dedicated office and laboratory space for Tropical HTIRC was secured at USDA Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry and University of Hawaii Komohana Research and Extension Center. Additional specific accomplishments included:
Based on this success and the next phase of challenges, it was deemed important to develop the next five years of work. This 2017-2021 Tropical HTIRC Strategic Plan was revised and updated in direct consultation with the Steering Committee of the Center. The Strategic Plan is designed to overlap with the normal 10-year federal planning cycle and priorities will be revisited at the end of FY2021. In addition, the Advisory Committee will provide annual advice on research priorities and will suggest re-prioritization of objectives as necessary.
To meet the above challenges and build on what was learned and accomplished during 2011-16, Tropical HTIRC has five strategic directions for 2017-2021:
Tropical HTIRC’s strategic objectives will be focused on: (A) research and development, (B) graduate education, (C) extension, and (D) capacity building.
Research and development projects will be conducted that address eight issues affecting hardwood production and utilization in the Hawaiian tropical hardwoods region. These issues include the need for: (1) knowledge of hardwood genes and their function for use in domestication, (2) improved seeds and propagules, (3) biotic resistance (insect, disease) in some tropical hardwood germplasm, (4) seed collection, conditioning, storage, and movement guidelines, (5) information on genetic diversity of seed sources and tropical hardwood forests and the effects caused by landscape fragmentation and climate change, (6) technologies for quick and efficient seed production, (7) optimized nursery production systems for tropical hardwoods, and (8) reliable silvicultural systems for tropical hardwood plantations and native forests.
All of the research and development objectives address issues for tropical hardwood regeneration in Hawaii. Specific elements include:
Classical tree improvement
Hardwood genomics and biotechnologies
Propagation technologies, seed production and handling, and nursery management
Hardwood forest regeneration
For plantation tropical hardwood forests, we will develop a genomics research effort for identification of important genes and determination of their function. From this basic work and in association with classical tree breeding, traits will be targeted for improvement that will lead to domestication and efficient production of selected tropical hardwood species. Concurrently, seed orchard and tropical hardwood propagation systems will be developed for delivery of this improved germplasm. Modified silvicultural systems will also be established for these domesticated trees. Novel strategies will be developed for control and management of major forest invasive plants, pests, and pathogens. In addition, research will be conducted and strategies will be developed to address effects of climate change on forest health. For the identification of research issues, plant materials, and current practices, scientists and research professionals will form partnerships or seek the advice and counsel of consulting foresters, landowners, industry practitioners, and tree improvement and nursery specialists.
Expected 5-year research and development activities and outputs *
* Expected lead partner agency or agencies are shown, in relative order.
Expected short-, mid-, and long-term research and development outcomes
The undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral education function of the Tropical HTIRC is to develop future hardwood researchers and practitioners with expertise in the science and application of tree improvement, management, and protection of tropical hardwood forests. Students will be trained through a combination of disciplinary coursework, specialized research projects, and opportunities to present their research at scientific conferences and extension meetings. These students will become the next generation of leaders as forest ecologists, forest geneticists, tree improvement specialists, propagators, nursery managers, silviculturists, forest health specialists, and extension agents. Exposure to interdisciplinary research initiatives and to the broad range of end goals of tropical hardwood users (i.e., commercial, ecological, and conservation) is a cornerstone of the educational experience at the HTIRC.
Expected 5-year educational activities and outputs
Expected short-, mid-, and long-term educational outcomes
One function of the Tropical HTIRC will be to communicate: (1) stakeholder needs to the research community and (2) unbiased science-based technology and information to end users through:
We will ensure that information is communicated to clients (landowners, industrial foresters, and consulting foresters) and the scientific community and that newly developed technologies are applied to real-life situations.
Expected 5-year extension activities and outputs
Expected short-, mid-, and long-term extension outcomes
To meet the challenges associated with tropical hardwoods, it is vital that TropHTIRC build its overall research, education, and extension capabilities to address current and longer-term problems. Capacity building is specifically needed in the areas of: (1) research, development, and extension programs, (2) facilities, (3) staffing, and (4) funding. The following objectives and associated actions were prioritized by Tropical HTIRC leadership based on: input from stakeholders; current and anticipated capabilities and strengths of the staff and regional professionals; priorities of collaborators; and current and anticipated funding. The needs and priorities established in the Plan will be addressed by hiring, soliciting, and supporting the best scientists and research programs in the tropical hardwoods region. The principal investigators will in turn be successful in generating the financial support necessary to implement the Plan.
The Tropical Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (Tropical HTIRC) is a collaborative research, development, and extension. The partnership includes the USDA Forest Service Northern and Pacific Southwest Research Stations, Region 5 and 6 State and Private Forestry, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (UHM- CTAHR), University of Hawaii-Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management (UHH-CAFNRM), Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL), Kamehameha Schools, The Nature Conservancy, Hawaii Agricultural Research Center (HARC), Forest Solutions Inc., Hawaii Forest Industry Association (HFIA), Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests, Paniolo Tonewoods, Haleakala Ranch Company, and Maui Native Nursery. In addition, through its affiliation with HTIRC based at Purdue University, it is a member in the National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (NSF I/UCRC) program titled “Center for Advanced Forestry Systems”, a cooperative program among nine universities and industry members. The Tropical HTIRC is unique and differs from and expands upon the existing HTIRC on the mainland in several key aspects: (1) it has an international focus on tropical (vs. temperate) hardwoods, (2) it is a true partnership of federal, state, university, industry and landowner groups who contribute financial support and leadership, and (3) it generates basic knowledge and technologies for the genetic improvement, utilization, conservation, restoration, and regeneration of tropical hardwood tree species to support tree nurseries, forest industry, public land management agencies, and private and public landowners.
Tropical HTIRC is a virtual Center located at Institute of Pacific Island Forestry (IPIF), University of Hawaii, and Purdue University (HTIRC). The broad range of collaborators each bring unique experiences and perspectives to the partnership: (1) HTIRC is a national USDA Forest Service Center with expertise in temperate hardwood tree improvement, Acacia koa nursery production and plantation establishment, hardwood seed technologies, and integrated government, industry, and university research collaboration, (2) IPIF is a highly respected ecological research and development center with a depth of experience in Acacia koa forest management; (3) UHM-CTAHR has a long-standing Acacia koa classical tree improvement effort, research experience in developing new knowledge for plantation establishment, and a well-established extension program for communicating results to land owners and managers; (4) HARC has an important history and is a leader in disease resistance breeding for Acacia koa; (5) DHHL is actively restoring Acacia koa forest habitats and (6) HFIA represents numerous entities involved in Acacia koa investment, restoration, and utilization.
Tropical HTIRC benefits its partners by:
To help realize these benefits, Tropical HTIRC supports an administrative staff employee with responsibility as project coordinator. By facilitating communication, sharing and dissemination of knowledge, and combining resources as appropriate, Tropical HTIRC provides a mechanism for partner organizations to collectively achieve more than would be possible individually.
Productive working relationships with scientists from a variety of institutions are necessary for the success of the Tropical HTIRC. To this end, the Center is vertically integrated with molecular biology and classical geneticists, tree physiologists, silviculturists, entomologists, pathologists, ecologists, and nursery and regeneration specialists from its partners with the USDA Forest Service (NRS, PSW, Region 5 and Region 6), University of Hawaii, HARC, and Purdue University. Its strength is its ability to perform and communicate the results of basic, applied, and developmental research so the foundational knowledge that is created will be delivered to industry and private landowners in value-added products. Tropical HTIRC will be one of many institutions performing tropical hardwood research desired by the hardwood industry, nursery operators, government agencies, forest landowners and managers, and the general public. Thus, partnerships with other tropical forestry research institutions in the US and internationally will be developed.
The Tropical HTIRC Director has responsibility to integrate policy, planning, research, development, extension, education, and management of the Program to ensure an orderly implementation of the Strategic Plan. The Tropical HTIRC Director interacts with USDA Forest Service administrators, the Tropical HTIRC Coordinating and Advisory Committees, and local, state, regional and national organizations in planning and implementing activities.
Annual federal funding appropriations and in-kind support are expected from the USDA Forest Service Northern and Pacific Southwest Research Stations. Funding is also provided from Purdue University and the University of Hawaii for personnel, research, and extension efforts. Because the goals of the Tropical HTIRC require additional support than what can be expected from appropriated funds, program administration will seek to form strategic partnerships with other federal and state agencies and universities and to obtain funding from agencies and associations whose missions support tropical hardwood tree genetics.
Scientists and collaborators within the Tropical HTIRC will apply for federal grants including NSF, NASA, APHIS, DOE, and USDA. In addition, where industry research funds are available, grants and annual funding allocations will be sought from landowner groups, forest industry, and other hardwood associations. Finally, funding from the private sector, including individual private citizens, and foundations will form an important part of our funding strategy, as has occurred with the Purdue-based HTIRC. These opportunities will be pursued continually as they arise, particularly through the association of Tropical HTIRC with the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests.