University of Hawai'i Press

Human activity has altered nearly every landscape on earth, and ecological restoration to repair degraded ecosystems has become a conservation necessity. Hawai'i is a microcosm for intense landscape change, where levels of native biodiversity and threats to it are among the highest in the world, and where Kānaka Maoli (Hawai'i's indigenous people), who stewarded these lands for a millennium, currently face massive inequalities. Consequently, biocultural restoration has emerged as a method to reciprocally restore ecological and cultural integrity and is especially applicable in Hawai'i's sizeable invasive-dominated areas. Since Kānaka Maoli are an inseparable part of every land and seascape in Hawai'i, any ecological restoration project has the potential to use a biocultural restoration approach. However, most restoration approaches are purely ecological, and for many conservation practitioners a sociocultural understanding of the landscape can seem inaccessible. In this article, we discuss the value of a historical ecology approach (understanding the interaction between people and landscapes over time) for successful restoration and management of biocultural landscapes in Hawai'i. We use a case study in Kahalu'u, Kona, to outline historical ecology methods and available resources in Hawai'i, including written documents, maps, imagery, archaeological studies, and interviews, and discuss applications of this approach on-the-ground. Potential benefits of employing this approach include expanding knowledge of reference conditions, understanding practices contributing to landscape function over space and time, and building meaningful relationships to engaging community around a site. We argue that a historical ecology approach is readily adoptable into ecological restoration in Hawai'i, especially in its human-dominated landscapes.

Human activity has altered almost every part of the planet through landscape transformation, anthropogenic climate change, altering biogeochemical cycles, and changing biotic compositions through harvesting of species and by facilitating species invasions (Vitousek et al. 1997, Chapin et al. 2000). Globally, this has led to unprecedented natural ecosystem degradation (Steffen et al. 2007). The Hawaiian Islands are an example of intense landscape change. Hawai'i has some of the greatest rates of endemism in the world, with about 90% of the native Hawaiian flowering plant species found nowhere else in the world (Eldredge and Evenhuis 2003). However, it is also deemed the "extinction capital of the world," with 40% of all native Hawaiian flora currently listed as threatened or endangered (Sakai et al. 2002, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2010), two-thirds of the native land bird species extinct, and over half of the existing native birds considered [End Page 437] threatened or endangered (Banko et al. 2001). Accordingly, ecological restoration projects that seek to repair degraded ecosystems are growing across the archipelago, directed by federal, state, private, and community groups. Because the limited funding available is often channeled toward areas with the highest biodiversity value, most large-scale ecological restoration projects are focused in conservation zones with intact systems, from reef and coastal ecosystems to cloud forests. However, more than half of Hawai'i's lands exist outside formally protected conservation areas (DBEBT 2015) and are concentrated in lowland areas, which are often human-dominated landscapes, heavily impacted by alien species.

Just as dire as the ecological situation in Hawai'i is the related socioeconomic conditions of Hawai'i's indigenous people, who stewarded these lands and seas for almost a millennium (Athens et al. 2014). Similar to other indigenous peoples also under foreign influences and subsequent U.S. colonial occupation, Kānaka Maoli (indigenous Hawaiians and their descendents) have been systematically dispossessed and separated from their ancestral territories and associated knowledge (Kame'eleihiwa 1992, Kelly 1994) and currently face immense sociopolitical challenges and inequalities, including disproportionately high rates of poverty, homelessness, health problems, abuse, and incarceration (Kana'iaupuni et al. 2005, Moy et al. 2010, Kamehameha Schools 2014). From an indigenous perspective, the health of a landscape is inherently and reciprocally connected to the health and well-being of its people (Kimmerer 2011); thus ecological restoration of ecosystems and cultural restoration require one another. Kimmerer (2011:259) defined the concept of biocultural restoration as "the mutually reinforcing restoration of land and culture such that repair of ecoystem services contributes to cultural revitalization, and renewal of culture promotes restoration of ecologic integrity." Ecological restoration can restore the cultural and community health of people in a number of ways, including reconnecting people with ancestral practices and traditions, revitalization of traditional ecological knowledge and language, and reconnection with cultural identity and spirituality (Kimmerer 2011, Pascua et al. 2017). Stemming from this worldview that community health is directly and inherently tied to ecological health, biocultural restoration projects have recently emerged in Hawai'i and elsewhere as a method to repair degraded ecosystems and cultural landscapes in concert with healing the relationships and practices of people to those places. In Hawai'i, these projects are often initiated by Kānaka Maoli individuals, communities, and organzations and represent an effort to regain self-determined socioecological resilience on 'āina (land and sea) today. The Society of Ecological Restoration (SER) also recognizes this view that some systems require the parallel restoration of the ecosystem with the linked indigenous management regimes, languages, and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), and where ecological restoration is especially contingent on lasting involvement of local communities (SER 2002).

In Kānaka Maoli cosmologies, Kānaka come from the same entities that create the earth, the sky, the stars, and all living things in the sea, on land, and in the atmosphere (Beckwith 1951, Malo 1951, Kamakau 1991, Kame'eleihiwa 1992, Oliveira 2014) and are thus kin with all of the elements of their surroundings. From this perspective, Kānaka Maoli and their ancestors are a fundamental and inseparable part of every landscape in the archipelago, and any ecological restoration project within Hawai'i from the oceans to the mountain summits has the potential to be considered biocultural and utilize a biocultural restoration approach.

Despite this, most ecological restoration projects within Hawai'i, like many around the world, take a purely ecological approach to restoration, relying solely on biophysical research, targets, monitoring, and success (Wortley et al. 2013). Furthermore, in many areas in Hawai'i, communities have not had access to or interaction with some ancestral landscapes for generations, and consequently for land managers and restoration ecologists [End Page 438] working to restore those areas, a sociocultural understanding of the ecosystem can seem inaccessible. However, the relatively new science of historical ecology offers an approach to understanding the interaction between people and landscapes over time, which can be readily utilized in restoration ecology to achieve outcomes of ecological health and community well-being. A purely ecological restoration effort has many benefits, but a historical ecology approach is particularly useful in human-dominated landscapes where intense landscape changes have occurred and/or where a local community is still present but has lost access. The former tend to be last priority for restoration projects, but they cover large areas in Hawai'i. In this article, we explore the advantages and potential outcomes of using a historical ecology approach in ecological restoration in Hawai'i. We draw on a case study in Kahalu'u, Kona, to outline historical ecology methods and available resources in Hawai'i and illustrate the potential benefits of integrating them into the restoration and management of a biocultural landscape.

Why Use a Historical Ecology Approach in Ecological Restoration?

Historical ecology, a relatively new field, founded from the disciplines of anthropology, geography, ecology, history, sociology, and geography (Balee 1998), seeks to understand environmental change over time in a socioecological landscape to inform the future (Crumley 1994, Egan and Howell 2001). Historical ecology has a few main tenets, including (1) humans have affected nearly every landscape on earth, which affects present-day landscape spatial distributions; (2) landscapes are the result of dynamic interactions between environment and human culture; and (3) understanding landscape change in the past should be utilized to address current and future concerns (Egan and Howell 2001, Armstrong and Veteto 2015). Using a historical ecology approach involves drawing from a variety of documentary and natural historical sources, such as archaeological and ethno-historic surveys, archaeobiological studies, oral histories, historic maps, written accounts, surveys, and climate records, to better understand the past functioning of a system (Swetnam et al. 1999, Egan and Howell 2001). These sources span a range of spatial and temporal scales, providing a long-term view of a landscape, and the process is especially mindful of the interactions humans have with the system.

Ecological restoration is "an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability" (Society for Ecological Restoration Science and Policy Working Group 2002:1). This requires an understanding of the composition, function, and structure of an ecosystem over time. However, sometimes restoration ecologists fail to recognize the long-term and cultural functioning of an ecosystem, which can lead to flawed restoration and conservation approaches (Foster and Motzkin 2003, Walter and Merritts 2008). A historical ecology approach allows for the understanding of landscape history over space and time through a range of past reference conditions, referred to as the "Historical Range of Variability" (HRV) (Aplet and Keeton 1999, Keane et al. 2009). Moreover, it provides insight on the social and ecological functioning of that landscape in the past, offering clues on ways to restore that functioning into the future. The historical ecology approach does not involve selecting one specific reference condition over another within the historic range; these decisions should ultimately be guided by the specific vision of the restoration project.

A recent review of the restoration ecology literature found that most restoration projects do not use reference ecosystem targets, and of those that did, most used a control ecosystem, which was often the ecosystem before restoration (Wortley et al. 2013). In these cases, restoration ecologists use short-term biological studies to understand the site prerestoration and to set reference targets. Yet, it has been shown that historical management and disturbances can alter vegetation patterns and ecosystem functioning after hundreds and even sometimes thousands of years (Hermy and Verheyen 2007, [End Page 439] Hightower et al. 2014). Thus, to understand the factors that have, are, and will drive ecosystem patterns and processes, a historical ecology approach is necessary. For example, Foster and Motzkin (2003) used paleoecological data (pollen/charcoal data), archaeological evidence, ethnographic accounts, plant species distributions, and soil profile data to investigate the conservation and restoration of a unique grassland ecosystem in the American Northeast. They found that the areas thought to be native grasslands were actually derived after European contact. The grasslands were products of clearing and subsequent management by European settlers, who utilized grazing, plowing, as well as fire, and the conservation of these biodiverse areas may depend on the restoration of the cultural practices that once maintained these landscapes (Foster and Motzkin 2003). This example shows that to understand and manage present-day ecological conditions, it can be necessary to understand the long-term biological and cultural processes within the landscape over time. Often this requires an understanding of the ecosystem prehistorically or before indigenous and/or Western management of the landscape, as well as during and after these management regimes, to identify how cultural management has and will influence ecological patterns.

With climate change predicted to alter global and local weather patterns in unprecedented ways and at unpredictable rates this century (IPCC 2007), some landscapes may shift outside their historic ranges, signifying that historical sources alone cannot determine restoration targets (Harris et al. 2006). However, an understanding of historic conditions, changes, and ecological responses within the landscape to past climate changes still provides critical information on both past resilience and adaptability of components of the ecosystem, which can be applied to managing for resilience of a system into the future (Millar and Woolfenden 1999, Hotchkiss et al. 2000). In addition, although there is uncertainty around ecosystem shifts under climate change, there are increasingly more climate envelope models available that predict species shifts under local climate change projections (for Hawai'i see Fortini et al. 2013, 2015, Vorsino et al. 2014, Kurashima 2016). These models can be utilized to identify species that are predicted to shift into restoration areas or to include species that may aid in mitigating shifts (Harris et al. 2006).

A historical ecology approach is especially relevant in Hawai'i. The expression "I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope" can mean "through the past is the future." Here, the past or "ka wā ma mua" can literally be translated as "the time in front," and the future, "ka wā ma hope," can mean "the time behind." This positional perspective provides insight to the Kānaka Maoli worldview: that one is always looking toward the past, seeking guidance from ancestral knowledge to address the issues of the future (Kame'eleihiwa 1992:22). It serves as a constant reminder to first look to the knowledge, values, and approaches of küpuna (ancestors) when faced with any matter in today's changing contexts. This perspective still holds true today, with numerous Kānaka Maoli educational programming and resource management programs emphasizing traditional knowledge applications to current issues such as climate change and water scarcity. The principal ideas of the field of historical ecology, namely that a generational, long-range understanding of the past is necessary to address issues today, are already embedded within the Kānaka Maoli worldview.

Second, a plethora of socioecological knowledge is currently stored within local Hawaiian communities, as well as in Hawai'i's documentary archives, including early 'ōlelo Hawai'i (Hawaiian language) newspapers, oral histories, and anthropological studies. Knowledge of ecosystems and human interaction with these ecosystems is especially deep in Hawai'i, where despite widespread colonization many Kānaka Maoli families have continuously carried out cultural practices such as subsistence fishing, farming, and gathering over numerous generations (McGregor et al. 2003). In addition, much traditional ecological knowledge is stored within place-names, mele (songs and chants), and mo'olelo (stories), all serving as vehicles for intergenerational transmission of socio-ecological [End Page 440] knowledge within communities (Kana'iaupuni et al. 2005, Nāone 2008, McMillen et al. 2014). More recently, there has been a renaissance in relearning practices, place-names, and associated knowledge systems especially in younger generations (Tengan 2008, Paglinawan and Paglinawan 2012, Goodyear-Ka'ōpua 2013). Furthermore, many of the aforementioned documentary resources are already utilized and compiled by archaeologists and anthropologists in the form of ethnohistoric or cultural-impact studies employed in cultural resource management in Hawai'i, although in many cases the researcher does not have the capacity to read and translate 'ōlelo Hawai'i, and thus these documents are often not included. Also, many sources have been digitized and are now freely available online (i.e., databases such as,, and, although many more sources wait to be digitized.

Third, although many large landowners and conservation agencies do not use a historical ecology approach in ecological restoration, there are many smaller community and grassroots groups that have interest in and are utilizing traditional and local ecological knowledge in landscape restoration. These small-scale groups are often extremely successful in gathering and organizing people around a site and project. Given that many large conservation areas are on state or private lands and can be remote in nature, these restoration projects may not have a community living in or near it currently. Using a historical ecology approach could provide one method to begin to scale up community engagement around restoration and place. Although the goals of a large-scale restoration project may be very different from that of a community-based project, both can utilize a historical ecology approach based on ancestral knowledge, which can then serve to connect a community or a set of volunteers to a place. Given limited conservation funding, it is only with the help and commitments of local communities to restoration (Leigh 2005) will it be possible to extend restoration efforts into large tracts of human-dominated landscapes across Hawai'i.

How Can Historical Ecology Be Integrated into Restoration Initiatives in Hawai'i?

case study: informing the restoration of kūāhewa, kahalu'u, hawai'i island

We present a case study of a restoration project in Kahalu'u, Hawai'i Island, to provide an example of historical ecology methods and sources and how they can be applied to restoration. We then discuss some applications and limitations of this approach in Hawai'i. We provide this case study as a road map for those who are unfamiliar with historical resources in Hawai'i and as a more complete resource for those who may have already utilized some of these sources in management and restoration.

Restoration Site

Kūāhewa is a 140.4 ha (347-acre) parcel located in the district of North Kona in the ahupua'a (Hawaiian land division) of Kahalu'u on the leeward side of Hawai'i Island. Vegetation surveys (Kurashima 2016) revealed that the site is heavily invaded with alien plant species, with very few native species in the under-story. However, almost half of the site's canopy is made up of the native 'ōhi'a (Metrosideros polymorpha), more concentrated in the mauka (upland) section of the site, which borders a predominately native forest reserve (Kurashima 2016). The site was recently "rediscovered," when a survey in 2000 revealed over 3,500 archaeological features within the project area, which are almost all (98.7%) categorized as traditional Kānaka Maoli agricultural features (Rechtman et al. 2003, Monahan et al. 2015). The Kahalu'u Field System is arguably the largest intact remnant of the Kona Field System (Rechtman et al. 2003), a culturally important productive complex of rain-fed fields that stretched over 14,000 ha and traditionally integrated a variety of crops, along with native plant species. The rain-fed system in Kahalu'u was farmed in the time before Western contact (1778) and the decades following by Kānaka Maoli. Since then, the site has not been actively managed and is seldom accessed, usually by a few for subsistance hunting. [End Page 441]

Kūāhewa is similar to other large areas that are managed either privately or by the state, where the associated community that lived in the area may have been displaced, perhaps many generations before. Consequently, the families that were once a part of Kūāhewa have not been allowed to consistently maintain their practices in this area and thus have lost the ability to continually develop their relationship with the environment of that place over time as their ancestors once did. This does not mean that this community is totally disconnected, because knowledge of this place endures in many ways, yet it does indicate that the relationship between community and place has been diminished.

Today, the landowner, Kamehameha Schools (KS), the largest private landowner in Hawai'i, with a mission focused on improving the education and well-being of Kānaka Maoli, is seeking to restore the site's ecological and social function. As a former indigenous agroecosystem, these functions include increasing native conservation value by restoring a diversity of native habitats, as well as enhancing local food production and community resilience through establishing appropriate useful crop and plant species. However, like many systems in Hawai'i, the site has transitioned from forest to agriculture, then back to forest, but is now alien-dominated. The degraded nature of the vegetation has left almost no living evidence of the species that naturally occurred in the area, nor the species that were cultivated historically alongside these natives. Thus, employing a historical ecology approach was necessary to begin to identify species to utilize in restoration.

Although one focus of the restoration is the reestablishment of traditional crops, there is also a large emphasis on integrating a high diversity of native plant species within fields, including threatened and endangered species, as well as restoring large tracts of native forest in the mauka sections of the site. This agroecological approach is representative of Kānaka Maoli management, where native and cultivated systems were somewhat fluid and interdependent, and is also relevant today because many current and former agricultural landscapes in Hawai'i are dominated by invasive species. KS has been working with a collaborator organization, Hō'ulu'ulu Kahalu'u, which recently began (January 2016) to host 'āina-based (or place-based) educational restoration workdays with local educational groups. The voluntary workdays focus on removal of invasive vegetation, establishment of native and culturally important plants, and restoration of cultural sites. The educational experiences range from plant ecology to the local water cycle, to landscape engineering, and cultivation practices, all from a Kānaka Maoli perspective.

Historical Ecology Methods and Sources for Hawai'i

In 2012, we undertook a historical ecology approach to design biocultural restoration, set goals and metrics of success, and reconnect the surrounding community to Kūāhewa. We reviewed over 20 different types of sources (details in Table 1) in both 'ōlelo Hawai'i and English spanning in time from before the initial settlement of Kona by Kānaka Maoli (˜mid-1200s AD) (Rieth et al. 2011) to present-day enviromental data and projections of vegetation shifts under future climate-change scenarios for Hawai'i (Figure 1). Recognizing that information about the site is living knowledge, we facilitated a half-day community workshop in Kahalu'u and conducted subsequent informal interviews with kūpuna and kama'āina (those born and raised in Hawai'i, literally "child of the land") of the area to understand plant species that are valuable to the community. Participant selection for the workshop was purposeful; invitees were those who had an in-depth relationship to Kahalu'u and/or the surrounding region through residence and were also familiar with Kona agriculture through subsistence activities and/or running Hawaiian agricultural programs. During the workshop and interviews, we discussed the study site, its history, any connections and information the participants had to the specific area, and recommendations for plant species to be utilized in restoration.

Many sources provided information on the native plants and crops previously planted in [End Page 442] the area; information on planting methods and other cultural practices; descriptions of ecological and climatic patterns, including weather, place-names, and locations; and details of the restoration of Kamehameha Pai'ea's (Kamehameha I) upland garden in Kona called Kūāhewa. Mainly because of their older publication dates, the vast majority of the sources (n = 14) are freely available online (links provided in Table 1) and thus readily accessible for use. In addition, some sources are free at the Hawai'i State Archives (e.g., historic photographs) or could be available for certain areas at the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) library (e.g., ethnohistoric and archaeological surveys).

Figure 1. Spatial and temporal scale of the sources used in the restoration of Kūāhewa.
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Figure 1.

Spatial and temporal scale of the sources used in the restoration of Kūāhewa.

A well-known complication within the field of historical ecology is the issue of varied spatial scale of data. Some of our sources focused at the field or farm level, and others were regional to archipelago-wide (Figure 1). Yet, the range of spatial scales is also an advantage for scale-specific information within a Kānaka Maoli worldview. Because our goals were associated with the restoration of a portion of the larger biocultural system of the Kona Field System, we chose to focus on gathering information that was pertinent to the upland Kona region in the 'āpa'a (planting zone), which operated in the range of farm to region level.

Applications and Outcomes of Historical Ecology Approach to Restoration

Because access and activities at Kūāhewa had been limited for decades, most people within the surrounding community and at KS had little knowledge of the site beyond the archaeological and ethnohistoric studies, which provided information on the cultural sites and a historical cultural context of the broader area of Kahalu'u and Keauhou. Therefore, as researchers and land managers tasked with [End Page 443]

Table 1. Sources and Data Gathered in Historical Ecology Approach, Including Information about Their Accessibility and Scope
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Table 1.

Sources and Data Gathered in Historical Ecology Approach, Including Information about Their Accessibility and Scope

[End Page 448] restoring the socioecological function of Kūāhewa, our first step was to ho'okama'āina (become familiar with the place). We did this through regular site visits during different times of the year across as many areas of the system as we could access and through simultaneously gathering and reading any information we could find at multiple spatial scales, including up to the moku, or regional level. The only way to understand if the information from the sources was applicable to Kūāhewa and its restoration was to understand the characteristics and cycles of the site, through being there physically as often as possible for as many years as possible. It was through this process of building a relationship with Kūāhewa that we were able to make appropriate and sound natural and cultural resource management decisions. For example, through understanding both the historic and observed seasonal rainfall patterns and varied vegetation within microhabitats at the site, we could time the removal of overstory invasive canopy that resulted in minimal understory growth and subsequent outplantings. Simultaneously, we familiarized ourselves with other community organizations and lineal descendants of Kahalu'u and the surrounding area by attending community-based educational programming and workdays at nearby sites. Through working alongside them and consistently showing up to workdays, we were able to establish and grow a relationship with key community members.

Because the majority of the site is dominated by invasive species, we needed to understand what plant species were appropriate to restore at Kūāhewa given today's changing environmental and social context. We developed an initial planting list of 70 species, including 37 species that were cited as previously existing in or around the project area in historical documents, a pollen survey, and our interviews. At least eight of these species were mentioned only by community members as previously existing in the area, highlighting the value of community participation in the historical ecology approach. The list also contained useful native, Polynesian-introduced, and nonnative but noninvasive species that are either currently existing on site, present in the adjacent forest reserve, or are ecologically appropriate. Kurashima (2016) contains the full planting list. This planting list also includes eight species that are listed as threatened or endangered and those whose habitat is expected to be lost in some areas but maintained within the project area [i.e., kauila (Colubrina oppositifolia)] (Fortini et al. 2013). Considering future climate change in this step is ideal because some areas may no longer be appropriate for some species, and other areas may become suitable in the near future and can be considered for current outplantings. Climate envelope models for every native Hawaiian plant species are available for the archipelago (see Fortini et al. 2013), as well as for Polynesian-introduced crop and crop mixes (see Kurashima 2016).

Using a historical ecology approach in the creation of the planting list resulted in recognizing and documenting the historical preferences of the community of Kūāhewa. Historical sources as well as the interviews with the community provided information on crops and plants that have been and are likely to be the most important to the resource stewards of Kahalu'u over time, helping us to understand the community's vision for specific plant species restoration. With the broad planting list for the study area, we were then able to plan detailed plant mixes for specific sites and develop resource management goals[i.e., restore one-third of all previously mentioned species (n = 12) by the third year of restoration].

Another step in the revitalization of Kūāhewa was to restore the identity of the place. One example is the name of the system itself, which previously was termed "Kahalu'u Field System" at KS. Yet, after we gathered the mo'olelo of Kamehameha Pai'ea's restoration of a vast upland farm his people called Kūāhewa from historic Hawaiian-language newspapers and other sources, we reestablished the name of Kūāhewa and its associated history and mana (power; energy) at the site. The historical ecology approach also yielded many names of places, land divisions, cultural sites, planting methods, winds, and rains that are used during management or education [End Page 449] concerning the site. Restoring these names also in turn restores the function to these places and phenomena in the way that the kūpuna of Kūāhewa once knew them. For example, we developed an oli kāhea (chant asking for permission) specific to the site, first honoring the area by calling out the names for the water cycle and land boundaries, then recognizing Kamehameha's historical restoration of the area with his people. Finally, the oli acknowledges the current generation of stewards of Kūāhewa and their purpose to replant and restore for Kūāhewa's sustainability into the future. In many places, it may be more appropriate to continue the process of haku mele (composition) about an area or process to reflect and honor the place and its function in today's context. By speaking these traditional names again and echoing them throughout Kūāhewa, by creating an oli to honor Kūāhewa, this generation of resource stewards affirms themselves to the place in a way that the kūpuna who cared for this place generations ago once did. The value does not lie only in the specific content of names or information uncovered, but in the process of using that knowledge again, which then returns the purpose and function to that knowledge.

Due to the dense vegetation in some areas, it was difficult for anyone, both managers and visitors, to access many of the cultural sites and restoration areas. We established interpretive trails of sites using the archaeological studies and the help of an archaeologist familiar with the restoration area. Using the historical resources, we selected characteristically common Kona Field System sites, along with sites unique to Kahalu'u, and then designed an easily accessible trail to these sites. We also developed a narrative for each location, highlighting information from the historical record, such as specific planting methods and types of crops planted at the site. The development of the interpretive trails has allowed for better access for targeted resource management (native plant, crop, and cultural site restoration). Starting with a relatively small number of sites (around 15) and connecting trails helped us to set an achievable goal for initial invasive species removal, cultural site restoration, and native replanting. Furthermore, we used the interpretive trail each time a visiting group visited as a way to introduce volunteers to a wide variety of restoration areas quickly and easily, serving as a way for people to build pilina (connection, relationship) with Kūāhewa.

Due to limited access to Kūāhewa for generations, we needed to reopen and reestablish relationships between the surrounding community and Kūāhewa, as well as between us as resource managers and the community. With a specific outplanting plan, established interpretive trails, and narrative, we were able to host visitors, which included community members, students, contracted crews, researchers from local universities, other natural resource managing organizations, and groups from within KS, in a much more meaningful way. The historical ecology approach provided us with a trove of information, which we shared with all visitors either in conversation or through visuals such as large, durable historic maps. The maps operate at different scales to explain both the specific adaptations of Kānaka Maoli practices to the site as well as broader landscape patterns across the island. The maps help individuals place themselves within the landscape over space and time and also serve to establish pride and a connection to the ingenuity of the kūpuna who once managed Kūāhewa. Sharing the information from the historical ecology approach and resulting narrative is also a way to show the community our respect for the site and for them (i.e., a form of reciprocity). Learning as much as possible through the historical ecology approach and physical presence served as an indicator to some of the kūpuna, who have knowledge of the area, that we had "done our homework." It was a way to demonstrate how much we valued Kūāhewa and valued the time we had with the kūpuna of the place, because it was only after years of the research process and subsequent increased understanding of the place over time that we were able to ask them meaningful questions that could then in turn help to drive restoration.

With the numerous hands on site, we were then able to work toward the restoration of [End Page 450] many of the Kānaka Maoli practices associated with Kūāhewa. One example was our efforts to revitalize various planting methods and techniques discussed in historical documents. One site we cleared on a trail consists of built-up planting rings in an area that is intermittently filled with standing water. This site was considered unique and is not known by the archaeologist to exist in other parts of the Kona Field System. We reestablished the name mākālua, which refers to planting in mulched holes and pits (Handy et al. 1972), for this site. A group of local and Kānaka Maoli students from the surrounding area filled these mākālua with soil and mulch derived from the surrounding invasive species and planted huli (cuttings) of kalo (Colocasia esculenta; taro) that they brought from their gardens, while we all chanted an 'oli associated with planting. The act of bringing kalo huli and putting their hands into the soil is also a form of reciprocity between those Kānaka and Kūāhewa. Though the varieties of kalo, the type of mulch, and the chant may or may not be exactly what was used traditionally, the value lies in the process of returning the function to the mākālua and the function to the collective community as the stewards of this place. The tradition also continues in the monitoring and continued relationship of these students with these outplantings over the year and experimenting with better ways to ensure the continued growth of these crops, just as the kūpuna of Kūāhewa once did. By reestablishing the succession of planting, the succession of stewardship of Kūāhewa, this generation of stewards becomes part of the mo'okū'auhau, or the genealogy, of the place. In this way, we as the collective stewards (resource managers, researchers, students, community members) will always be tied to and will always have a kuleana (responsibility) to this place.

More information and visuals on our process is available at:


Our case study focused on restoration of an agroecological site, including both forest and agriculture systems, but our approach is applicable to restoration of forests or other natural ecosystems in Hawai'i. Our site has not been occupied for generations and did not have a specific community tied to it through practice. In this way, it is comparable with some of the more remote areas of Hawai'i, which Kānaka once had a more constant relationship with but have since been displaced. In these areas, a historical ecology approach can serve as the first step in a biocultural restoration process to ultimately aid in reestablishing a relationship between resource stewards, including the community, and the place.

As we have shown, there is a wide variety of freely available resources that can be a critical part of restoration. One of the most important applications of historical resources is in helping to determine reference conditions in landscape restoration, which can often help to then generate species lists for outplanting. Because restoration goals were biocultural, to restore the ecological and the Kānaka Maoli cultural system and their interconnections, the decision was to restore to a context that emphasized both. Therefore, many of the reference conditions chosen were during the time of the cultivation of the Kona Field System (˜1300–1900) (Allen 1991). Yet, we did include reference conditions from precontact and information about future climate change in our resulting planting list. Even if the reference conditions for restoration are pre-Polynesian management, a historical ecology approach can still be used to both determine this earlier range of historical variability and to provide information on landscape change over time. For example, the archaeobotanical study indicated the previous presence of native species not found in the surrounding forest nor mentioned by the community. Their current absence from the greater area and absence in the mind of some of the people of the place could indicate longstanding changes to their recruitment.

In addition, plans for the reference condition can shift over time. For example, in our case defining the reference condition has been, and will continue to be, a collective and iterative process. For example, though we [End Page 451] have a planting list of ecologically and culturally appropriate species that guides outplantings, groups continually bring seedlings as makana (gifts) to the site. Often, they will ask what is appropriate and we provide the list, but other times they will bring what they feel is appropriate. Although a historical ecology approach can provide a guide, ultimately it is the decision of the (collective) stewards of a place to decide on the most appropriate reference condition(s).

Our case study illustrates that this approach can be used to provide guiding principles for appropriate restoration, both ecologically and culturally, and aid in setting social and cultural goals of restoration alongside biological ones. It also demonstrates how much of the information gathered in a historical ecology approach can be shared with restoration participants as a way to further engage them in the biocultural history of the site. These applications not only provide valuable insights about restoration to the landowner, ecologist, or manager, but can serve to build relationships between community and place as well as between manager and community. Kānaka Maoli scholar C. Kanoelani Nāone has writtem, "We sustain and grow our connection to the land by sharing stories of place. By learning the names of places we claim and opening a dialogue with 'āina, we come to understand the deeper meaning of place" (Nāone 2008:333). Restoration and management can facilitate these connections of communities to 'āina by enabling both physical access to lands and, just as important, through sharing and restoring the stories, names, and history of a place. It is important to note, however, that a historical ecology approach does not always necessitate a community-based effort and can be utilized in restoration projects that are not driven by community.

There are limitations in both access to and utilization of some of the historic sources. First, those not freely available online have a cost, which is usually minimal, but ethnohistoric and archaeological studies can be very costly to the landowner, organization, or individual, usually costing upwards of $15,000. However, these types of studies have been executed in many areas and are publicly available at the SHPD library. Archaeobotany studies, which are especially helpful in determining plant species composition over long time scales, are much less common but have been executed in some areas. Managers and ecologists can look for published studies done in similar ecological zones or biocultural landscapes (i.e., within a lowland mesic forest on the same island) for pertinent information. There are also a number of historic sources at the Bishop Museum, but access is limited by appointment as well as designated time restrictions for research. Another limitation is language. Many sources are solely in 'ōlelo Hawai'i, and older documents are written in colloquial 'ōlelo Hawai'i, which requires a more advanced understanding of the language. However, with the growth of 'ōlelo Hawai'i programs throughout the archipelago, there are many students of the language that one could employ for the task of reading, summarizing, and/or translating. Finally, some areas within Hawai'i may have less available data than others, depending on the specific history of people on those landscapes over time. In these cases, it is important to remember that there are people who are still connected to that place and have valuable knowledge of the history of the area who can be contacted. Although an all-inclusive picture of the history of a landscape is unachievable, failing to ignore the history of a place altogether could be perilous to the socioecological success of a restoration project.

With worldwide environmental degradation, ecological restoration is increasingly becoming a requirement within the field of conservation (Hobbs and Harris 2001). There is limited programmatic funding at the government, nonprofit, and community levels, especially for projects outside formal conservation areas, and more and more projects are turning to volunteers for labor assistance to leverage costs and reach management goals. The success of restoration and conservation projects is dependent on public support and community involvement (Ryan et al. 2001, Higgs 2003, Leigh 2005), and this is especially true if restoration efforts are to be scaled up to the vast areas of human-dominated [End Page 452] landscapes that lie outside protected areas. Studies in the continental United States have found that benefiting and learning about the environment are the most important motivations for conservation volunteers (Ryan et al. 2001, Bruyere and Rappe 2007, Guiney and Oberhauser 2009). But in places like Hawai'i, where the land and seascapes have been an essential part of the genealogy, identity, and well-being of its indigenous people for generations upon generations (Kana'iaupuni et al. 2005, Nāone 2008), motivations to volunteer are more akin to responsibilities to take care of a family member. This drive is powerful, and desires to return to ancestral lands and learn the history of place are on the rise in Hawai'i. Biocultural restoration projects that utilize a historical ecology approach are a powerful tool to foster existing connections or, in other cases, to help reestablish relationships of individuals and communities to 'āina, potentially enabling long-term restoration success. The following quotation from a community volunteer at Kūāhewa exemplifies this:

Our people have been threatened by abuse — physical, mental, social, for generations. Our land has been abused — development, large-scale agriculture, pasture, invasive species, fire, for generations. And we continue the cycle of abuse both on the land and to ourselves as people. We have a kuleana [responsibility] to restore these Hawaiian landscapes to not only heal the land, but to heal ourselves, families, and ultimately our communities for future generations.

(Kamuela Meheula of Hōlualoa, Kona)

In an era where most of Hawai'i's human-dominated lowland areas are characterized by nonnative vegetation (Hawai'i Gap Analysis Program 2006) and the indigenous people of Hawai'i face health and well-being challenges, it is now not enough to mitigate ecological threats or restore ecosystems alone. In Hawai'i, management strategies that restore people to lands through access, cultural practices, and knowledge is the only way to truly restore these human-dominated landscapes and ensure the sustainability of restoration into the future. The results of biocultural restoration programming with an approach that truly integrates local and Kānaka Maoli communities go far beyond achievements of bio-diversity, but work toward the renewal and strengthening of people to place, their culture, and each other.

Natalie Kurashima
Botany Department, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, 3190 Maile Way, Room 101, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96812.
Natural and Cultural Resources, Community Engagement and Resources Group, Kamehameha Schools, 567 South King Street, Suite 200, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96813.
Corresponding author (e-mail: nataliekurashima@
Jason Jeremiah
Natural and Cultural Resources, Community Engagement and Resources Group, Kamehameha Schools, 567 South King Street, Suite 200, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96813.
Tamara Ticktin
Botany Department, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, 3190 Maile Way, Room 101, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96812.


We thank the Keauhou-Kahalu'u community, Kara Ueki, and Billy Lee for their help in this research.

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1. This research was supported by the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Kohala Center, and the Kamehameha Schools. Manuscript accepted 1 May 2017.

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