Planting Sustainable Koa Forests

Alana Folen
Wednesday - October 27, 2010
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In 2008, business partners Jeff Dunster and Darrell Fox worked with landowners on the Big Island to set up a 2,700-acre sustainable koa forestry project - growing rare, tropical hard-wood trees for investors all over the world. Today, this project-turned-business is known as Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods.

According to Dunster, Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods, located on the Hamakua Coast just mauka of historic Umikoa Village, is an evolutionary model for tropical restoration, using sustainable forestry principles and practices.

“We have two objectives,” Dunster explains. “The first is to provide a sustainable source of native Hawaiian koa (Acacia koa) for Hawaii’s fine furniture makers, woodturners, sculptors and instrument makers. As a superior tone wood, it is coveted by musicians and instrument makers all over the world.

“Since the majority of what is being used today comes from dead, fallen and dying trees, and much of koa’s native habitat has been lost to agriculture and gazing animals, the supply is dwindling,” he adds, noting that by creating a sustainable supply, we are taking pressure off old-growth forests and providing green jobs for Hawaii’s economy.

“Our second objective is the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative - our way of reforesting King Kamehameha I’s former lush, private koa forest.”

Koa legacy trees are currently being planted by the HLH staff and will provide habitat corridors for native birds as they return to newly forested land. Dunster says these trees are part of a managed forest and will not be harvested. Legacy trees are available for purchase to honor an individual, memorialize a loved one or commemorate a special event.

“Every tree dedication is a living legacy and a gift which grows grander year after year,” Dunster explains. “These trees are the foundation for the forest and are sold throughout the year, then planted during the rainy season, December through April.”

The legacy trees retail at $60, and all orders are processed on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition, tree owners can schedule a trip to visit the site and its trees. A portion of the proceeds are donated to The Nature Conservancy and a specified charity or organization as well. HLH also invites anyone to invest in its trees as a sustainable commodity by purchasing specific units (100 koa trees per unit).

“In addition to creating a sustainable supply of Hawaii’s most prized native hardwood and restoring a native ecosystem, one of my goals is to have HLH educate the next generation about these practices,” Dunster says. “There also are opportunities to develop Big Island ecotourism, which could provide even more local jobs.

“Finally, with Hawaii being one of the few locations in the world where you can grow tropical hard-woods, it could be a beneficiary of the emerging carbon-credit market,” he states. “All this will leave a positive legacy on the sustainable future of Hawaii.”

For more information, or to give a gift of a koa legacy tree, visit

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