"Operation Miconia" Update

(prepared 3/17/97)

An update for the many people involved in Hawaii's community-wide effort to stop the spread of the tropical weed Miconia calvescens.


"Operation Miconia," launched by Governor Cayetano on April 12, 1996 has met its initial goals of:

  1. establishing broad community awareness of and involvement in the Miconia problem,
  2. establishing accurate, updatable range maps of all known infestations, and
  3. establishing a reliable, practical system for public reporting of Miconia infestations.

Public support has been excellent, and Miconia control teams of agency staff and community volunteers have made great progress in containing this serious pest. Lanai and Molokai continue to be free of Miconia and community monitoring programs are in place to watch for any infestations. Oahu and Kauai infestations are small and localized, and prospects are very good for complete eradication on those islands with low-cost, persistent effort. Maui's major infestation is now under heavy attack by full-time field crews, who are making good progress. A three-person field crew is now on board for the Big Island, where over 10,000 acres are infested with Miconia. To be successful, however, this campaign must be sustained for several years.

The top current priority for Operation Miconia is to secure additional monies for Big Island operations. The County of Hawaii has budgeted $100,000 which the Big Island Miconia Action Committee hopes to apply toward a two-year project budget of $382,000. Additional funds are being sought from federal, state, and private sources.


The Kauai program is coordinated by Guy Nagai (Hawaii Department of Agriculture, ph. 274-3069). A strong community awareness campaign resulted in several reports to the Kauai Miconia hotline, most of which turned out to be other plant species of no concern. All Miconia found to date on Kauai are in the Wailua river drainage. All have received initial treatment (pulling or herbicide treatment) and been revisited once to remove new seedlings. The only exception is a single, immature tree on an inaccessible cliff below a private home. HDOA does not have rapelling equipment to reach this plant, but will work with partners to accomplish this task. Prospects for complete eradication of Miconia on Kauai are good, assuming no new, major infestations are found in remote areas. The current program can be maintained without additional personnel, provided that roughly $5,000 per year are available for helicopter access to remote sites and special equipment or supply needs.


The Oahu effort is coordinated by Pat Conant (Hawaii Department of Agriculture, ph. 973-9526). Staff and volunteer teams have treated all known populations (upper Manoa, upper Kalihi, Nuuanu, and Wahiawa), and have been successful in reaching all known plants to prevent the expansion of these relatively small infestations. There may be additional Miconia on the inaccessible ridges and gulches in upper Manoa, Kalihi, and Kamanaiki (between Nuuanu and Kalihi) valleys. These require helicopter reconnaissance. Similarly, the region mauka of Wahiawa Botanical Garden (largely within the East Range training area of Schofield Barracks Military Reservation) should be checked for untreated Miconia populations. The Army will be asked to conduct these searches. Calls to the Oahu Miconia Hotline continue sporadically. As on Kauai, most of the plants reported turn out to be India rubber, castor bean, or other large-leaved aliens, but not Miconia. Like Kauai, the Oahu eradication effort has high promise for success if it is sustained with roughly $5,000 per year in helicopter time and miscellaneous supplies, plus the existing commitment of HDOA staff time to coordinate volunteers and field operations. Pat Conant's imminent transfer to the Big Island creates a potential staffing void that must be filled to sustain Oahu Miconia eradication efforts.


With Guy Nagai's (HDOA) transfer to Kauai and no replacement staff from HDOA on Molokai, Ed Misaki of The Nature Conservancy's Molokai program has volunteered to serve as Operation Miconia lead for the island. Hotline reports are being taken at Ed's office (553-5236). School presentations and informational displays at community events in 1996 have the community talking about and looking for Miconia. Several suspicious plants have been reported, but none turned out to be Miconia. Ed and his community partners will continue displays and presentations this year to maintain public vigilance. No funding is needed on Molokai.


Gaylien Kaho'ohalahala of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii (ph. 565-7430) is the Lanai lead for Operation Miconia. Canvassing of schools and community presentations have been completed, and one suspicious plant was reported, checked,and turned up negative. No funding is needed on Lanai.


Miconia work on Maui is coordinated by the Tri-Isle RC&D Melastome Action Committee, chaired by Randy Bartlett of Maui Pineapple Co. (ph. 669-6201). Wes Wong of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife (ph. 984-8100) is the primary contact for Operation Miconia matters. The Maui Melastome Action Committee has developed the most active Miconia control program in the state, with major funding and in-kind support from private, county, state, and federal partners.

A five-person, full-time crew hired in June, 1996 is focused on the major Miconia infestation near Hana. Over 5 miles of rough roads have been bulldozed to provide access to the work site. Roughly one third of the 300-acre core population area (where Miconia occurs in dense stands) and about one fifth of the 2200-acre peripheral area (where scattered Miconia plants are believed to exist) has been surveyed and received initial treatment (pulling or herbicide spraying of all visible Miconia plants). County funding is being sought to extend this work beyond the currently funded period, which will expire in May, 1997. Prospects for receiving this funding appear to be good. The Maui team expects to complete removal of all established plants from the 300-acre core infestation by October, 1997 and to complete a systematic search and treatment of plants in the peripheral area by June, 1998. Thereafter, the project will focus on re-treatment of sprouting plants until the soil seed bank is exhausted (Miconia seeds are estimated to remain viable in the soil for about 6 years).

Pat Bily of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii (TNCH, ph. 572-7849) leads the effort to treat Miconia in all known satellite populations (outside of Hana) in Keanae, Nahiku, and Huelo. All known populations are under active control, though several are large and will require years of effort. Pat has been successful in involving community volunteers in control projects and in locating new infestations. A conversation with a Nahiku resident led Pat to discover a small population in Wailuku, near the mouth of Iao Valley, in late 1996. The single tree observed in a private garden in Kaupo by Alan Holt (TNCH) requires follow up to confirm that it was destroyed by the landowner and to check for possible additional plants in the surrounding area. Because the Kaupo area is generally too dry to support vigourous Miconia growth, this population is a lower priority.

Big Island:

Project leadership on the Big Island is in transition from Julie Leialoha (DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife) to Kim Tavares (field crew leader hired under FY97 County funding, ph. 974-4140). On the Big Island, Operation Miconia is a fledgling program, even though Miconia infestations are larger and more widespread than on other islands. Organized efforts to contain Miconia began in 1996 when private, county, state, and federal organizations and individuals teamed up to address this threat by forming the Big Island Miconia Control Committee. Following commitment of $75,000 by the County of Hawaii in FY1996-1997, hiring of a three-person team to expand control operations, community involvement, and mapping of infestations was completed in late November. Kim Tavares, an experienced natural resource manager formerly with the National Park Service, leads this crew, which operates out of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture baseyard in Hilo. Other state, federal, and private organizations are also supporting the current Big Island effort. This initial program focuses on (1) eliminating small, outlying populations of plants, where the threat of expansion is greatest; (2) curtailing reproduction and dispersal of selected, larger populations to halt further spread; and, (3) reconnaissance and mapping efforts, using public outreach and aerial survey, to locate sites of incipient invasion. In the past few months, over 75 acres have been treated by the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), State Department of Agriculture, Nanawale Community Association workers, and other community members. At present, intensive removal and treatment efforts are continuing in the Lower Puna district and mature Miconia plants are being removed from roadsides in the Onomea area as necessary to reduce dispersal from vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

It will take several years of well-organized effort to contain Miconia on the Big Island. The challenge now is to sustain and strengthen the fledgling Big Island Miconia program. While field work continues under the $75,000 County appropriation, committee members are working with the County to prepare for the next phase: a two-year (June 1, 1997 - June 30, 1999), $382,000 project to complete treatment of mature plants in all satellite population, complete island-wide surveys, and prepare the detailed, long-range plan for Big Island Miconia work. An important component of this work is refinement of treatment methods to maximize efficiency. The County has budgeted $100,000 in the current fiscal year which the committee is proposing to apply toward this two-year effort. Matching funds are being actively pursued via proposals to the U.S. Forest Service and other federal, state, and private sources.

Biological Control development:

Safe and effective biological control agents are critically important to the long-term success of Operation Miconia. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture's biocontrol research efforts have produced a new, promising control agent, the Miconia-specific fungus Colletotrichum gloeosporoides f. sp. miconiae), a native of Latin America. The Department has expedited its own review process and now awaits U.S. Department of Agriculture approval to release this fungus for field testing. Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey--Biological Resources Division (USGS-BRD) Pacific Science Center at U.H. has been funded for a total of $90,000 over the next three years to identify additional potential biocontrol agents for Miconia in cooperation with Latin American scientists and HDOA's exploratory pathologist.

Other Public Education/Outreach:

An October, 1996 public awareness poll funded by The Nature Conservancy indicates that about 35% of those queried have heard of Miconia as a problem weed in Hawaii. This poll establishes a baseline against which changes in public awareness can be measured as Operation Miconia continues.

A 30-second Public Service Announcement is in final production and slated for media distribution on March 17, 1997 with air-dates shortly thereafter. The Miconia PSA aims to increase the public's awareness of Miconia's threat to Hawaii's natural environment and also increase the public's ability to correctly identify Miconia before they call in reports to the individual island hotlines. A toll-free number (1-888-MICONIA) has been donated by GST, Inc. which will access the existing ASK-2000 phone service and enable (esp. Neighbor Island) callers to make a toll-free call, which will then be routed to existing Miconia tapes for more information, or, to the island hotlines for new location reports. The Tri-Isle RC&D (Maui) Melastome Action Committee has spearheaded production of this PSA.

Several web pages on the Internet now provide information on Miconia. The primary hub for Miconia information can be found at http://www.environment-hawaii.org/301emma.htm. Also check http://www.hear.org/MiconiaInHawaii/ and, with more of a local focus on the Big Island, http://www.kvhn.com/miconia.htm.


The USGS-BRD at Haleakala National Park has been monitoring/evaluating the Miconia problem on Maui since 1991. USGS-BRD is funded for $120,000 over the next three years to continue monitoring and evaluation of both ground and biological control efforts of the Miconia population on Maui. An aerial spectral analysis photography trial study will begin in April, 1997 by TerraSystems, Inc. of Oahu and U.C.-Davis,with $50,000 in funding from The Nature Conservancy's Mellon EcosystemResearch Program. One objective of this study is to develop the ability to rapidly detect Miconia trees across large areas of land using aerial imagery.

This report was compiled from information provided by each of the Operation Miconia island team coordinators.

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This page was last updated on 12 May 2005 by LF