Baron Horiuchi and his work at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge is sometimes the only thing that stands between an extinct plant and its total disappearance from the Earth.
Phyllostegia brevidens a native mint thought to be extinct until Baron Horiuchi propagated and replanted it on the refuge. Photo credit: Megan Nagel/USFWS
Phyllostegia brevidens plant was thought to be extinct for over 100 years. Once discovered on the refuge, Horiuchi has propagated and replanted over a 1000 of these native plants, preventing its total extirpation.
Baron Horiuchi after being awarded the 2012 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence. Photo credit: Megan Nagel
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the 2012 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence to Baron Horiuchi, for his scientific contributions toward native plant propagation and restoration at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.
As the Service’s only horticulturalist, Horiuchi leads a team of volunteers and the refuge staff in efforts to restore native and endangered Hawaiian species to their home on the windward slopes of Mauna Kea.
A lobeliad in the green house. Photo credit: Megan Nagel/USFWS
Horiuchi’s techniques have resulted in the propagation and outplanting of several endangered Hawaiian lobeliad and mint species. The lobeliad Clermontia pyrularia are down to 20 individuals in the wild and he has propagated over 1,100 in the greenhouse since 1998. Cyanea shipmanii lobeliads are down to just three individuals in the wild and Horiuchi has propagated over 800 since 1999. The endangered mints Phyllostegia velutina and Phyllostegia racemosa are both down to 10 individuals in the wild and he has propagated hundreds of them in the past decade.
Due to Horiuchi’s persistence and ingenuity more than 6,000 other plants of seven endangered species have been propagated from seeds and cuttings, greenhouse grown and out-planted into protected areas.
Horichi said, “You learn how not to give up on plants. It’s like creative work.”
But bringing species back from the brink is just one example of his success.
Some of the greenhouses, young plants ready for planting, and water tank. Photo credit: Megan Nagel/USFWS
Since 1989, almost 400,000 native plants, including koa trees, have been out-planted at the Hakalau Forest NWR. Each year over 20,000 plants are grown at the on-site refuge greenhouse.
Seedlings in the greenhouse. Photo credit: Megan Nagel/USFWS
Seeds are collected, germinated, propagated and transplanted by hardworking volunteers supervised by Horiuchi. The volunteer program is so popular with conservation partners, organized volunteer groups, and individuals that volunteer weekends are fully booked a year in advance. Made for Horiuchi by a group of volunteers, a sign above the green house reads laulima and has many different hand prints on it.
The Hakalau Forest NWR staff. Photo credit: Megan Nagel
“Laulima means many hands. The work that I do would not be possible without our volunteers, and all of the other refuge staff,” said Horiuchi, “The volunteers are about the island [Hawaii] – it is in their heart. They are passionate about this work, just like the refuge staff.”
Where 20 years ago the slopes of Mauna Kea more closely resembled a pasture, they now are returning to native forest habitat. Due to the return of this habitat, Hakalau Forest NWR is one of the only locations where native forest bird populations are stable or increasing.
Refuge staff walking through the forest in volcanic fog or vog. Photo credit: Megan Nagel/USFWS
Many of the native bird species, such as ‘apapane, ‘i‘iwi, Hawai‘i ‘elepaio, and Hawai‘i ‘amakihi, are seen regularly within the replanted areas and returning forest habitat. In addition, the endangered ‘akepa and ‘akiapōlā‘au regularly forage in the replanted koa groves
“If you plant it, they will come. That’s how I found out I loved the ‘elepaio when it was the first bird I started seeing come back to the koa trees,” said Horiuchi.
The endangered ‘akepa. Photo credit: Megan Nagel
Forest restoration at Hakalau creates a necessary hedge against extinction for many Hawaiian bird species and has served as a hopeful model of how Hawaiian forest may be restored elsewhere.
“We are honored that Baron has been recognized with this award,” said Robyn Thorson, Director of the Pacific Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “His work to return previously thought to be extinct, endangered and unique native plants is an important part of the successful expansion of native forest, and habitat for recovery of forest birds at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.”
For Horiuchi, he can’t imagine working anywhere else. “I love these trees, this forest, this island,” he said. “It’s in my heart.”
Baron Horiuchi standing next to a newly planted koa tree. Photo credit: Megan Nagel/USFWS