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Kilauea eruption kills up to half of Big Isle forest reserve

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Forestry managers on Hawaii island reported that one-third to one-half of the Malama Ki Forest Reserve in Puna has been impacted by the volcanic eruption, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

DLNR said that Malama Ki, a relatively small reserve of 1,514 acres, is home to a young ohia-dominated forest which serves as a habitat for native forest birds including the Hawaii amakihi and apapane — the Hawaiian hawk and the Hawaiian hoary bat. A unique subpopulation of Hawaii amakihi that have been documented as uniquely tolerant to avian disease lives at Malama Ki.

DLNR closed the Malama Ki Forest Reserve May 19 due to lava flowing into it.

“Due to current and further expected loss of this forest habitat due to lava inundation, and defoliation due to volcanic emissions in lower Puna, these remnant and sub-populations of wildlife may no longer persist, rapidly decline, or become further fragmented and/or contract in range,” said DLNR Hawaii island branch manager Steve Bergfeld in a news release.

Site visits conducted so far, said DLNR, show a lot of the vegetation downwind of the eruption plume is dead. In addition, more than 200 acres of Malama Ki Forest Reserve have been damaged by wildland fires sparked by the lava flows.

Forestry staff have not been able to conduct accurate assessments of the forest since it is downwind of the fumes a majority of the time.

In addition to the loss of habitat, impacts include a loss in the continuity of research on disease tolerance, sub-population genetics, and the measurable effects of rapid ohia death to the forest bird community in the reserve and surrounding area.

Birds are okay in upwind areas, and wildlife has been observed within yards upwind of the flows. Anything downwind would face a sulfur dioxide hazard, foresters said, but would likely leave the area.

DLNR foresters will conduct further assessment of Malam Ki as soon as conditions are safe.

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COMPLETE KILAUEA COVERAGE
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