Giving the Forest a Hand – Encouraging Forest Stewardship in American Samoa
PAGO PAGO, Jan. 23, 2014-- Samoans have always had a great respect for the forest. In addition to food, traditional Samoan healers have used rainforest plants for hundreds of years to cure diseases and strengthen the body and soul. In addition to providing food and shelter for the native bird and bat species, the Noni fruit (Morinda citrifolia) has been rumored to help ease canker sores. Over the past decade, lots of forest land that was cleared for plantation has since been left unattended, leaving the forest to slowly take the land back. This process however can be very slow and the threat of invasive species succeeding in colonizing these areas presents a significant challenge to the establishment of healthy, native forest.
However, there are landowners that are bucking the trend. Misatama West, approached the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 2012 to ask for recommendations on how he could improve an abandoned plantation of his in the village of Vatia, American Samoa. The land was cleared for a banana plantation approximately 20 years ago and had fallen into disrepair.
Gradually, the forest had started to reclaim the area but its efforts were hindered by the prevalence of noxious and invasive species like Mile-A-Minute (Persicaria perfoliata) and Koster’s curse (Clidemia hirta). Misatama, or “Misa” as he calls himself, jointly runs a landscaping business with his father and has worked with the National Park of American Samoa’s terrestrial maintenance crew repairing trails and planting trees in the National Park.
Through a cost-sharing agreement under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), administered by NRCS, Misa decided to give the forest a little help. Working closely with partners such as the American Samoa Community College Land Grant and the National Park of American Samoa, Misa and NRCS developed a plan to help speed along the forest re-colonization. The plan involved a combination of erosion control and forest treatment practices designed to make the area more appealing to wildlife species such as the Pacific Imperial Pigeon (Ducula pacifica) and Samoan Flying Fox (Pteropus samoensis). Working over the weekends, Misa and his friends worked to clear land by hand, taking care to ensure that native recruits were not damaged in the process. He installed vegetative barriers and hillside ditches during the site preparation activities to control water erosion while the new trees were becoming established.
“We are pleased that this forestry project has been so successful and is meeting the needs of our partners,” said Christine Clarke, Acting Director for the NRCS Pacific Islands Area. “Hopefully others will see the benefits of conservation and working with NRCS, while utilizing EQIP.”
Misa and NRCS worked closely together to select tree species that would be beneficial to both his family as well as the native wildlife. For instance, Asi (Syzygium inophylloides), one of the few hardwood trees native to Samoa, is widely used by the Pacific Pigeon and Fruit Doves as a habitat tree. It is also a highly valued tree for the construction of traditional Samoan fales (a traditional Samoan, open air house). This is just one example of the trees that were selected for both their wildlife and cultural significance.
Misa is currently in the middle of his cost-sharing agreement, having completed reforestation of one acre. He is currently working on site preparation for the remaining one acre. Misa and NRCS wish to extend our sincerest thanks to our partners, the American Samoa Community College Land Grant and the National Park of American Samoa for their assistance with providing tree seedlings as well as their technical assistance in the reforestation efforts. Since his activities began, he has been spreading the news to his community and more landowners are now interested in seeing how they can help themselves by helping the forest.
Written by Nicholas Saumweber, Soil Conservationist, NRCS American Samoa. For more information, please contact him at Nicholas.Saumweber@pb.usda.gov or (684)-633-1031 ext. 122.
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