Master’s of Environmental Management (MEM) Capstone Reports

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    Correlating the Current and Potential Ranges of Hawaiʻi’s Declining Native Plant Species in Relation to Slope and Aspect on the Summit of Puʻu Kōnāhuanui on the Island of Oʻahu
    ( 2024-05-10) Ragone, Noah L. ; Idol, Travis ; Natural Resources and Environmental Management ; Master's of Environmental Management ; Idol, Travis
    The Koʻolau mountain range on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, is home to an exceptional amount of endemic plant life. However, the mountain range’s unique biodiversity is under threat from drought and the spread of invasive species, which is exemplified by declining rainfall patterns (Giambelluca et al., 2013). Since rainfall in Hawai’i is strongly related to the dominant trade wind pattern and orographic uplift, this study focused on understanding where certain Koʻolau endemic species are likely to be found and most resistant to these threats based on the aspect of slopes in relation to Oʻahu’s prevailing trade winds. The study surveyed species communities on the summit of Puʻu Kōnāhuanui, with the primary study site being the north, and east-facing aspects of the mountain. Labordia hosakana and Lobelia gaudichaudii subsp. gaudichaudii were the two species surveyed for this study, as both are considered to be high-risk wink-out species, meaning there is no other habitat for them to migrate to in the event their habitat becomes too degraded for their survival (Fortini et al., 2013). The data from the surveys was subsequently used to predict the most viable windswept habitats, in order to provide range information to natural resource managers on Oʻahu. The data showed that only the steepest slopes, ranging from 47.5º - 85º, and the most northerly to easterly aspects, ranging from 30º - 127.5º, proved to harbor the windswept species of concern, with the primary habitats being located between a slope of 40-60º and an aspect between 55-95º. The research findings were used to provide resource managers within the Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP) the best information for protecting rare and declining plant species on the windswept Koʻolau summit from encroaching noxious weeds and for making informed management decisions regarding species of concern in the future, potentially establishing new habitats in other suitable locations throughout the range. Recommendations from the PEPP included future on-the-ground work to survey for species, targeted weed treatment to protect rare plant populations, and fencing, which has not been implemented anywhere in the southern Koʻolau mountains.
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    The Effectiveness of Reforesting Acacia koa by Crushing Rows in Gorse Thickets (Ulex europaeus) in Humuula, Hawai’i
    ( 2024-05-10) Wehrman, Aaron CK ; Idol, Travis ; Natural Resources and Environmental Management ; Master's of Environmental Management ; Idol, Travis
    The Effectiveness of Reforesting Acacia koa by Crushing Rows in Gorse Thickets (Ulex europaeus) in Humuula, Hawai’i
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    Investigating Factors of Understaffing for Natural Resource Management Agencies of Hawai‘i
    ( 2024-05-07) Kauka, Tatum K. ; Chan, Catherine ; Natural Resources and Environmental Management ; Master's of Environmental Management ; Idol, Travis
    Increased natural resource depletion has encouraged government initiatives at various levels to better conserve, protect, and manage them. Unfortunately, many objectives are impossible to achieve due to current understaffing within natural resource management agencies. Public data from Hawai‘i agencies reveal that excessive staff shortages are a large contributor to their failure to meet ecological and social targets. This project aims to better understand the factors affecting the understaffing crisis across natural resource management agencies of Hawai‘i. Primary sources reveal that there are roughly eight existing retention and recruitment factors affecting understaffing in a workplace. Factors were translated into job attributes in which an evaluation of each was performed. Using a perception survey amongst current and potential employee candidates for the natural resources field, a total of 132 survey responses were collected. Through descriptive statistics, a respondent data set was generated to separate respondents into groups based on their responses to demographic questions. Then multilinear regression and thematic analyses were performed to evaluate the differences or similarities of groups' perceptions of the identified workforce factors. Key findings reveal that across all respondent groups, factors related to compensation and work environment were ranked as highly important, while other factors such as career advancement and recognition were ranked as least important. Demographics including age, gender, education level, college major, and professional experience correlated positively with the workforce factors. Specific demographic groups were significant in determining the importance of factors. Participants identified several emerging barriers related to job satisfaction which are separate from those already identified in this study. Results were shared to interested parties through a perception dataset, this report, and a presentation. All outputs identify the advantages and potential gaps existing within current natural resource management positions. These areas of concern are addressed in the hopes that agencies across these fields will utilize project findings as evidence to target the improvement of marketing or structuring job positions. With these appropriate changes, agencies may enhance staffing and refine management operations in the near future.
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    Invasive Vegetation Management: An Overview of Two Key Fire Risk Plant Species in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
    ( 2024-04-28) Oxley, Katherine ; Trauernicht, Parker Clay ; Natural Resources and Environmental Management ; Master's of Environmental Management ; Idol, Travis
    Morella faya tree (Morella faya) and fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) have both been continuously managed throughout Hawai‘i due to their invasiveness and contribution to fire risk. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO) has identified these specifically as fire-promoting invasive species. The islands have been experiencing an increase in wildfire occurrences over several years. Widespread fires have caused significant damage to native ecosystems and threatened the safety of local communities. Treatment patterns regarding these two plants over time may provide insight into how invasive species management impacts wildfire behavior allowing land managers to create solutions to try to prevent future fires. This study’s purpose was to identify literature gaps concerning invasive species management in Hawai‘i and work with an organized dataset of fire-related invasive species control in HAVO for potential future analysis. Having a dataset with several years of treatment data can provide land managers with an idea of the impact of current treatments now and in the future. The literature review focused on the management of faya and fountain grass as fire-promoting invasive species. Information for my research solely concerned management areas within HAVO. A dataset obtained from the park containing treatment dates, herbicide details, and worker efforts per management unit over 20 years was provided to interpret trends. Microsoft Excel was used to organize and extract the variables needed to track work efforts. Looking at only faya and fountain grass data, the variables chosen for building the table were individual plants treated, hours of effort workers worked on sweeps, and the amount of herbicide used each time. The outputs of my study were the dataset containing only the extracted variables created as a product to be utilized by park staff for management decisions and the literature review. There was a significant number of studies concerning the use of chemical management treatments on invasive species. However, not much is currently known about how an ecosystem is affected in the long term after these treatments. Further studies need to be conducted to determine the effectiveness of long-term management plans.
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    Improving Collaboration Between Native Hawaiians and Energy Professionals to Explore Geothermal Energy Potential in Hawai‘i
    ( 2024-05-08) Kamanā, Noa ; Vaughan, Mehana ; Natural Resources and Environmental Management ; Master's of Environmental Management ; Idol, Travis
    Climate change is threatening vulnerable islands like Hawaiʻi, posing major economic and social risks. The development of renewable energy in Hawaiʻi offers the possibility for energy independence and improving Hawaiʻi’s overall carbon footprint. Geothermal energy is one renewable energy source with promising possibilities to contribute to Hawaiʻi’s 2045 goal to transition to 100% renewables. Geothermal is a firm renewable energy option available in Hawaiʻi for the foreseeable future. However, geothermal development consistently faces opposition from the Native Hawaiian community, stemming from Hawaiian cultural identity and beliefs that natural resources are akua (Gods). Volcanic resources are the kinolau (physical form) of the goddess Pele. Throughout Hawaiʻi’s history post overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, Native Hawaiians have been marginalized by government officials and developers making it difficult to receive recognition in western decision making processes that overlook the cultural implications of development. This capstone project explores how to improve collaboration between Native Hawaiians and decision-makers for geothermal energy development. Seven semi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals from three groups; (1) Native Hawaiians community members, (2) Native Hawaiian geothermal professionals, and (3) non-native geothermal professionals. Interviews focused on the current status of geothermal development, participant feelings towards geothermal, perceived obstacles, knowledge gaps and recommendations to improve future geothermal and other renewable energy developments in Hawaiʻi. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed to identify similarities and differences in responses. Findings include six key themes. 1) shared understanding of the need for renewable energy in Hawaiʻi, (2) primary obstacles facing geothermal are not cultural opposition, (3) reasons for support of geothermal, (4) cultural implications of geothermal, (5) need for improved dialogue and rebuilding trust between Native Hawaiians and government, (6) improvement of social justice for affected communities. However, there is still much work that needs to be done to fill current knowledge gaps and rebuild the trust that has been lost to improve future geothermal energy efforts.
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    Where Kāhuli Wander: Climate change and a Hawaiian tree snail
    ( 2024-05-08) Hee, Charlton Kūpa'a ; Price, Melissa ; Natural Resources and Environmental Management ; Master's of Environmental Management ; Idol, Travis
    As climate-suitable envelopes shift for increasing numbers of sensitive species, assisted translocations may be necessary for hundreds of native Hawaiian species that have no overlap between current and future climate-suitable habitat. Translocations are fraught with risk for source populations. The development of protocols and benchmarks for translocation, release, and monitoring are critical to successfully moving species into climate-suitable habitat. Hawaiian tree snails, Kāhuli in the Hawaiian language, have dramatically declined over the last century due to invasive predators, habitat loss, and climate change. As predator-exclusion fences have proven effective in protecting snails from invasive predators, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife Snail Extinction Prevention Program (SEPP) is translocating wild snails into predator-exclusion fences in climate-suitable areas outside their known historical range. These translocations provide an optimal case study to examine the home range establishment of a climate-sensitive species. In this study I used capture-mark-recapture techniques to evaluate movement patterns and reconstruct individual home ranges for 70 translocated snails, 35 at two predator-exclusion sites. I also pioneered use of a new photo-identification tool and optimized protocols that can be used as a template for future translocations, releases and monitoring . Released individuals established stable home ranges within 2-4 months, supporting the hypothesis that after an initial wandering phase a stable home range would be established. Home range size varied between two locations, one with an established native snail population and one without . My capstone report and a subsequent peer-reviewed scientific article will serve SEPP as credible justification for future conservation introductions of at-risk species into areas outside of their historical range. The study results demonstrate that translocated populations are likely to persist, establishing novel home ranges when translocated into climate-suitable habitat.
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    Fire in the House of Water: Monitoring the Impact of Anthropogenic Wildfire on Native Forest in West Maui
    ( 2024-05-07) Carter, William ; Friday, James B ; Natural Resources and Environmental Management ; Master's of Environmental Management ; Idol, Travis
    Anthropogenic wildfire has become a dominant threat to Hawaiʻi’s native ecosystems. Shifting land use patterns, human activity, and climate change have resulted in an exponential increase in land area burned across the island chain over the last century. This project addresses the threat that wildfire poses to native forests, using one particular fire as a case study: the Kauaʻula fire that occurred in November 2022 in West Maui. This fire was a result of human ignition in unmanaged invasive grasslands. It burned close to 2,000 acres across various ecological zones and a roughly 3,000 foot elevation gradient into pristine native forest that had never burned in recorded history. This fire overlapped and surpassed a smaller fire that occurred in 2007. The Kauaʻula fire was a particularly extreme example of the well documented grass-fire cycle, considering the extent to which the fire breached into pristine native habitat. In collaboration with the Mauna Kahālāwai Watershed Partnership (MKWP), the goal of this project was to establish a photo monitoring study of the area to show change over time along the elevation gradient of the burn zone, specifically documenting initial ecological succession of native and invasive plant species. Data collection was done 9 months post-fire and 16 months post-fire. Invasive grass species such as Andropogon virginicus, Melinis minutiflora, and other weeds dominated the lower plots, while the upper plots showed a mix of native/invasive re-growth. Much of the new upper elevation burn area remained bare and prone to erosion for the extent of the study. In Hawaiʻi it is critical to have location-specific data to guide management decisions as we continue to adapt to the growing threat of wildfire. The results of this study provide a general timeline of re-growth and invasion trends, suggesting when and where to implement restoration efforts for similar disturbances in the future.
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    Place-Based Equity for Hawaiʻi's Local Producers
    ( 2024-05-08) Apilado, Destiny M. ; Crow, Susan ; Natural Resources and Environmental Management ; Master's of Environmental Management ; Idol, Travis
    To rectify the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) extensive history of discrimination against small and minority farmers nationwide, the USDA Equity Commission and Farm Bill policies were established to improve the equitable distribution of federal resources (i.e., grants, incentives, and loans). Although USDA equity policies acknowledge national injustices, they fail to address the context of values, challenges, and histories unique to Hawaiʻi’s producers. This research leveraged the community’s knowledge by conducting 20 talk-story interviews with producer-supporting organizations and collecting 72 survey responses from producers to explore the locally existing barriers to accessing financial resources and identify the communities of producers who are most impacted by barriers. Thematic analysis of community input suggests the most underinvested producers in Hawaiʻi include Native Hawaiian, immigrant, subsistence, and small-land leaseholder farmers and ranchers. Systemic barriers, program desirability and eligibility, and institutional distrust affect these producers’ access to financial resources. These findings were used to develop policy recommendations within a place-based, five-dimensional equity framework. The primary recommendation is to improve outreach within Native Hawaiian, immigrant, subsistence, and small-land leaseholder producer communities by applying place-based research ethics. Equitable outreach would increase local awareness of opportunities and create a foundation for bidirectional communication between local communities and institutions that can expand the capacity to make future well-informed equity decisions. Implications of this research are especially relevant for policymakers in the Hawaiʻi State Legislators, federally-funded agriculture projects, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service Pacific Island Area to holistically drive Hawaiʻi’s socio-ecological resilience outcomes.
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    Community-based streamside Albizia removal and restoration in Hawaiʻi
    ( 2023-05) Streamfellow, Sienna Camile Trinity ; Watson, JC ; Litton, Creighton M.
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