About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

But only a few have been repurposed. More than 600 have been cut up into green waste.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has cut down 667 mature trees since the cityʻs new fixed guideway rail project began. Most recently it removed century-old kamani trees along Dillingham Boulevard.

When I wrote a column about the felling of the almost two dozen kamani trees lining the boulevard, I wondered what happened to them. In fact, I wondered about the fate of all the trees HART has cut down.

It was encouraging to find out HART has planted 685 trees of different varieties including monkeypod and shower trees to replace those it removed. And it plans to plant 210 more new trees along the route.

But what about the trees it destroyed?

“Most of the trees removed since the project began have been recycled as green waste due to the fact that they were either an invasive species or in poor condition. Less than than five trees were repurposed,” HART spokesman Kevin Whitton said in an email. Repurposing means to turning the stumps into wood products.

Two of the five trees HART has repurposed in the years past have gone to Koʻihonua, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Hawaiian cultural practices.

That happened because about six years ago Koʻihohua co-founder Andre Perez happened to be driving along the rail route in Pearl City when he saw workers cutting down a large monkeypod tree.

Perez is a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, a community activist particularly prominent in recent years in the Mauna Kea protests and a naturalist who worked for the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission from  1998 to 2005 to restore plants on the barren island.

Tree stumps along Dillingham Blvd.
Trees along Dillingham Boulevard were cut down to make way for construction of the fixed guideway structure for rail. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

“I just didnʻt want to see wood wasted. There was nothing I could do to stop them. I pulled over in my car and said, ‘Hey, what are you guys going to do with the wood? I can take it off your hands,’” he recalled.

“I am 100% against cutting down live trees, particularly native trees, but if the wood can be used to empower and uplift Hawaiian organizations, letʻs not let it go to waste by being cut into chips at the dump,” said Perez.

“I explained to them that we work with youth and have a wood carving program. They gave us the tree and that is what opened up the door to HART giving us more wood,” he added.

Koʻihonua, the nonprofit Perez leads, leases 4.5 acres from Kamehameha Schools at Waiawa near Leeward Community College for its Hanakēhau Learning Farm.

Tree statue Hawaiian god Kanaloa Hanakehau Learning Farm Denby Fawcett column
Recycled wood is used to teach students how carve kiʻi, the wooden images of Hawaiian deities, like this one of the Hawaiian god Kanaloa. (Courtesy: Hanakēhau Learning Farm)

Students from Oahu schools from elementary grades through college have come to the farm for classes in Hawaiian traditional practices, wood carving and land restoration.

The wood Perez rescued from the monkeypod tree in Pearl City was used to teach students how to make Hawaiian implements such as poi boards and kapa beating tools and to carve kiʻi, the wooden images of Hawaiian deities.

Perez says HART called him a few years later and said it would bring the Hanakēhau Learning Farm another monkeypod tree.

And recently HART has delivered to the nonprofit stumps from eight of the kamani trees it cut down on  Dillingham Boulevard.

Koʻihonua has its own wood mill and wood carving apprentice program, with 14 apprentices currently in a long-term program.

Koʻihonua will keep some of the kamani wood for its programs and will distribute the rest of the wood to organizations HART selected in 2018 to repurpose some of the trees it removes.

The groups include Paʻi Foundation, Kamehameha Schools, Kalihi-Palama Culture and Arts Society,  Kalihi Palama Hawaiian Civic Club and Honolulu Community College.

Also on the list, according to Perez, are the Liliʻuokalani Trust and the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Hanakehau Learning Farm wood carving kata-making
Kapa-making instruments carved by students. (Courtesy: Hanakēhau Learning Farm)

“We will mill the wood to the specifications of each organization selected to receive it,” Perez said.

Of all the groups, I think Honolulu Community College should be first in line to get as much kamani wood as it wants because of the ugly mess left behind when HART cut down 15 kamani trees shading the front of its campus.

HCC spokesman Brent Suyama said the college has already requested wood and once it is milled will be eager to pick it up.

HART said at this time it is not accepting any additional recipients for the wood from other trees slated to be cut down as rail construction moves closer to downtown Honolulu.

“The trees have a lot of cultural value. Letʻs not let trees that have to be removed go to waste,” says Perez.

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Latest Comments (0)

Only the stump? I'm not sure how much wood that is, but it sounds like almost all of the tree was turned into wood chips and not repurposed.

JusticePlease · 5 months ago

Great reporting Denby!!!...I wondered earlier where the logs were going to be repurposed. Logs can be worth a lot of $$$ after being resawn to make lumber.

2cents · 5 months ago

Glad (some of) the trees are being repurposed and not going to waste. But I still miss the shade.

Sun_Duck · 5 months ago

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