Wildfire Response

Over the past decade, an average of 1,000 wildfires burned 17,000 acres each year in Hawaiʻi with the percentage of total land area burned comparable to and often exceeding figures for the fire-prone western U.S. People have caused much of the increase in wildfires by increasing the abundance of ignitions and introducing non-native fire-prone grasses and shrubs and it is these non-native grasses and shrubs that dominate burned areas and maintain a ‘grass-fire-cycle’, a positive feedback by which fire risk remains a persistent threat to Hawaiʻi’s residential areas and watershed resources. Non-native grasslands and shrublands now cover nearly one quarter of Hawaiʻi’s total land area and together with a warming, drying climate and a year-round fire season, this greatly increases the incidence of larger fires, especially in leeward areas.

Wildfires were once limited in Hawaiʻi to active volcanic eruptions and infrequent dry lightning strikes. However, the dramatic increase in wildfire prevalence in recent decades poses serious threats to human safety, infrastructure, agricultural production, cultural resources, native ecosystems, watershed functioning, and near-shore coastal resources statewide (Trauernicht 2014). A key strategy to break this grass-fire cycle and reduce the risk of future fires is to alter the composition of the vegetation that recovers in the post-fire environment. From this perspective, every fire actually provides an opportunity to replace fire-prone grasses and shrubs with native species that are less prone to burning, less sensitive to drought, non-invasive, etc. NES does this by hydroseeding using native seeds.