Fungal Disease Is Threatening Native Hawaiian Trees
By Shannon Brown
Hawaiian myth says that 'ōhi'a lehua trees were created by Pele, the goddess of fire and creator of the Hawaiian islands. Spurned by a handsome young warrior, ʻŌhiʻa, she turned him into a twisted tree; the other gods, out of pity, turned his heartbroken lover, Lehua, into a flower, so that they would be joined together forever.
Today, 'ōhi'a lehua trees are suffering for a different reason: a fungal disease called rapid ʻōhiʻa death (ROD) is spreading swiftly through Hawaiian forests and killing the trees.
When the pathogen was first identified in 2014, the potential damage seemed catastrophic.
"The future looked bleak," said Lisa Keith, a research plant pathologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. "We really thought in a matter of years, there wasn't going to be a healthy 'ōhi'a forest."
There's still a lot scientists don't know. But now, there are some bright spots in eradication efforts. Scientists have successfully implemented decontamination stations in sensitive areas on the Big Island, where ROD is more widespread, and there's a better understanding about why trees are vulnerable to it.
ROD works by blocking the transport of water through trees; the leaves die first, followed by the rest of the tree. The fungus is comprised of two strains of Ceratocystis pathogen: C. lukuohia and C. huliohia. C. lukohia is more widespread and aggressive than C. huliohia, but both result in the death of the trees.
ROD mortality was first observed aerially on Hawai'i Island around 2008-2010, and Keith estimates it was introduced at least a decade before that. It's possible C. huliohia was present even earlier.
"The current thinking is that C. huliohia has been in the islands much longer than C. lukuohia, and while capable of killing 'ōhi'a trees, went unnoticed until the more aggressive lukuohia was discovered," she said.
The pathogens first came to public attention in 2014, when large swaths of trees were infected on the Big Island. ROD can only infect trees if the bark is damaged and the inner wood exposed, said J.B. Friday, extension forester at the University of Hawai'i (UH), in an interview. He said he believes that damage to trees from Hurricane Iselle that year might have left them open to infection by the pathogen.
Since ROD arrived, it has spread to more than 71,000 hectares (175,000 acres) on the Big Island, and has been detected on Kaua'i, Oʻahu, and Maui as well.
Because it is more prevalent on the Big Island, efforts there focus on containment rather than eradication. But scientists respond to every report of the pathogen on other islands, and in Kona and Kohala on the Big Island, where it hasn't yet proliferated. Most of the time, infected trees are felled so that they're less likely to spread pathogen spores, unless the forest is dense and other trees would be damaged.
Researchers are also working to understand more about the disease and how it spreads.
"One of the key principles that we study is called the disease triangle," Keith said. "You have your fungus, you have a susceptible host, and you have the environment." She is assessing each of these to determine whether there's a way to combat the pathogen.
In her lab, she is inoculating seedlings with the fungus and studying their response. Some show resilience against it, which means they might be able to be used for future replanting efforts.
The fungus seems to prefer humid, low-elevation environments. Keith has tested trees at various elevations and found that those higher up seem to be protected somehow. "They're susceptible, you have the pathogen, but because of the environment they don't actually get the disease," she said. "On the other hand, a tree at sea level could be dead in 45 days."
Keith is also involved in the testing of samples, and recently developed a molecular test that can determine within hours whether the fungus is present, and if so, which strain. Previous testing methods could take up to a month.
Scientists are studying ways to reduce damage to the trees' bark. Everyday human activity such as mowing grass or trimming trees can leave gashes, Friday said. "We've seen many cases where, for example, someone puts in a driveway and they prune all the trees along the driveway, and they'll all die," he said. And in areas without humans, natural events such as winds or storms can still cause branches to come down.
Beetles and wild ungulates are also thought to play a role in the pathogen's spread. Boring beetles are attracted to dead and dying 'ōhi'a wood, and they create dust that can spread and contaminate other trees. Cattle and goats can cause damage to bark, and researchers are studying whether feral pigs may also make the trees more susceptible by damaging their roots.
A 2016 study found that feral pigs were introduced to Hawai'i by Polynesians up to 800 years ago, not by Captain Cook, as was widely believed. But the pigs pose a danger to Hawaiian forests, because when they root among the dirt, they dislodge native plants, which can then leave forests more vulnerable to invasive species.
The damage done depends on how healthy the forest is, Friday said. For example, losing a single tree in a native forest wouldn't have a large impact. But in a location where invasive species are growing in the understory, loss of a native 'ōhi'a tree would leave an opening for those species to grow.
Hunting pigs is a popular pastime among many residents, and officials have also allowed it as a means to control populations.
ROD can additionally be transported through vehicles, people, and wood from infected trees. But it doesn't spread in a clear pattern, and not all trees are affected, even at low elevations.
"You will see brown leaves on one tree, but its neighbor right next door looks healthy," Keith said.
Current Projects, Remaining Questions
New developments in eradication efforts include a remote-sensing system and a branch-sampling device that can take wood samples in remote locations. Both were created in 2019 by Ryan Perroy, an associate professor of geography and principle investigator at the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization lab. For the sampling device, he modified an existing drone from Swiss researchers at ETH Zürich.
The branch sampler still has some technical problems to work out before it is fully operational.
Sometimes ROD doesn't spread all the way out to the tips of branches, or if it does, the branches become so brittle that they can't be transported. However, sawing off larger branches would create dust, which researchers want to avoid.
Still, the device would allow researchers to verify the presence of the disease. "We could then send people in if it was determined to be worthwhile to do so," Perroy said.
The scientists encourage residents to avoid transporting wood or injuring 'ōhi'a, and to clean tools, clothing, shoes and even vehicles before and after entering forests. They successfully implemented a program to decontaminate hikers and tour operators in sensitive areas, which tourists enthusiastically comply with, Friday said.
In 2011, Hawai'i enacted "The Rain Follows the Forest" Watershed Initiative, which protected critical watersheds from invasive species. For example, invasive strawberry guava forests lose 27% more water than native 'ōhi'a forests. The project included fencing to exclude feral ungulates.
Friday envisions something similar to protect 'ōhi'a, while allowing less sensitive areas to remain open for hunting.
There are still more questions to answer. For example, how far can the dust spread? Can it infect only nearby trees, or can it travel between islands? Why does ROD infect some trees and not others?
There is another bright spot, according to Friday. "Nobody likes Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death," he jokes. "There are people defending strawberry guava, people defending mangroves when we've tried to do mangrove eradication, but there are no fans of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death here. Everybody's on the same page with that."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
After decades on the political periphery, the climate movement is entering the mainstream in 2020, with young leaders at the fore. The Sunrise Movement now includes more than 400 local groups educating and advocating for political action on climate change. Countless students around the world have clearly communicated what's at stake for their futures, notably Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who just finished her yearlong school strike for climate. Youth activists have been praised for their flexible, big-picture thinking and ability to harness social media to deliver political wins, as Sunrise recently did for U.S. Sen. Ed Markey's primary campaign. They necessarily challenge the status quo.
A Convergence of Issues<p>The unequal impacts of a changing climate have become extremely clear in 2020, so equity has come to the fore of climate conversations in every corner of the country. A global deadly pandemic continues to rage out of control in the U.S., heat waves are setting new temperature records, wildfires are scorching American Western states, and the hurricane season has already made it to the end of the alphabet for naming storms. In all cases, low-income, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities are bearing a disproportionate amount of the impacts.</p><p>"Today, the scab is off, the ugly reality of injustice is hitting us up close and personal, made more realistic by this COVID pandemic," Bullard says.</p><p>This year the decidedly youthful focus on intersectionality is a big part of what defines the transformation of the climate movement. Climate is not just an environmental issue, according to youth activists. It's also a racial justice issue, an economic issue, and an access-to-health care issue.</p><p>"Environmental justice is really seeing the intersection of these issues," says Alex Rodriguez, a community organizer with the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, which aims to make environmental issues a priority for the state's elected leaders. The group is now focusing their efforts on the coming election and recently succeeded in persuading the state to allow absentee voting in November. "We want people to be safe when casting their vote," says Rodriguez, 26, whose fellow grassroots committee members range from age 16 to 60.</p><p>Rodriguez, who also serves on the equity and environmental justice working group for the Governor's Council on Climate Change, says, "We see our programmatic work as a way to help lawmakers see what they can do to improve the dignity of those suffering from environmental racism, systematic racism, and economic oppression."</p><p>Seeing the overlap and bringing these issues together is a strength that Bullard says was missing from the civil rights organizing he was involved with in the 1960s. He says 2020 is unique in many ways.</p><p>"The number of marchers is unprecedented, from different economic, ethnic, and racial groups—an awakening unlike any that I've seen on this Earth in over 70 years," Bullard says. "Today, the different movements are converging, and I think that convergence makes for greater potential for success."</p>
Young and Old<p>But young people are one essential demographic among many when it comes to climate action. With all that's on the line for climate in the coming elections, up and down the ballot, collaboration becomes key. Bullard says previous generations of climate activists can now play the critical role of mentoring, assisting, and supporting. Standing with, not in front of, youth.</p><p>"Youth are leading us and taking on frontline activity," says Jayce Chiblow, the community engagement lead for Indigenous Climate Action, a Canadian organization that works for Indigenous-led climate justice solutions. But in doing so, she says many young Indigenous activists are experiencing the trauma of violence, getting arrested, and being taken away from their land. "All of our older people are supporting those youth: Elders, mentors, people trained in nonviolent action," Chiblow says. "The youth aren't alone."</p><p>That support can go a long way. "There's a lot of anger and a lot of fear, and that's understandable," says Wazer of Sunrise Connecticut. "I definitely feel those things, too, just considering the ways that our future has been threatened and kind of trashed by older generations."</p><p>Under the Trump administration, the number of environmental rollbacks alone can be disheartening, not to mention new <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/video/arctic-national-wildlife-refuge/" target="_blank">drilling permits in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge going up for auction</a>.</p><p>Wazer is frank about the risks of burnout, depression, and anxiety from the stress of it all, but draws inspiration from the example of the late U.S. representative and lifelong civil rights activist John Lewis. "That forgiveness and that ability to keep fighting and stay motivated … I think that that is something really powerful to learn from older generations."</p><p>An intergenerational approach can leverage the individual strengths of youth and older people in all their diversity.</p><p>"The elders hold our stories," says Chiblow, who is Anishinaabe from Garden River First Nation, Ontario. Those stories include lived experiences, culture, history, and generations of adapting to changes in climate. Such collective experience continues to inform Indigenous knowledge and connections to the land, as well as how people manage and govern themselves in relation to it. This knowledge is passed on through relationship-building and storytelling.</p><p>"Every time you hear that story, you're at a different point in your life, and you'll pick up something else … something new," Chiblow says.</p><p>Changes in perspectives that come with time and experience are among the reasons why intergenerational learning and coalitions are critical to the climate movement. To combine that living and learning is to expand the reach and meaning of the message exponentially. As part of her research for her master's degree, Chiblow brought together youth, community leaders, and knowledge keepers in her community to workshop climate action. "Those relationships are vital to keep that movement going," Chiblow says.</p>
The Unique Value Proposition of Elders<p>Older activists bring unique strengths to the table, according to gerontologist Mick Smyer, who designs strategies to move people from anxiety to action on climate. He calls himself "the aging whisperer to climate groups" and "the climate whisperer to aging groups." He is quick to point out that the learning can go in both directions.</p><p>"I think older adults are untapped resources," Smyer says. "Older adults bring several resources, one of which is their circles of influence. Just by virtue of having lived longer, older adults are going to have denser and richer networks," Smyer says. "The second is, when it comes to voting and civic engagement, older adults, as an age group, outperform all other age groups."</p><p>He uses the 2016 presidential election to illustrate his point: "The older age groups, 70% of them voted. Nobody [else] came close." He is cautious about making sweeping statements about older people broadly, but he says that ageism is alive and well. And that can deter the kind of collaboration that would beget necessary progress on climate action.</p><p>As the twin global patterns of an aging population and a changing climate continue arm in arm, Smyer says a good place for starting this work is within one's family.</p><p>"We each have that power to use in our circles of influence, particularly in our families, and we don't realize it," Smyer says. Whether it's via Zoom or FaceTime or a phone call or a chat in the living room, Smyer says, family members have a superpower: They will listen to each other, and they'll at least start the conversation.</p><p> "Intergenerational collaboration around climate issues, particularly in this election season, starts at home, and then goes to the polling booth," he says.</p>
Speaking the Same Language<p>As an individual's network of family, friends, and connections becomes wider and more diverse, the more work will need to be done to have them all working toward the same goals. That is equally true for the climate movement at large.</p><p>In bridging the gaps among baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials, Bullard says, "Each generation will have some idiosyncrasy and uniqueness about it that another generation will not understand or comprehend."</p><p>If everybody in a group or institution is similar, then there's no need to explain a lot, Bullard says. There's usually a fair amount of shared knowledge and values. But the more diverse that group gets, in age, race, gender, or culture, he says, the greater the potential for making mistakes, stepping on people's culture, and causing pain. But the potential for learning also increases exponentially.</p><p>Chiblow says successful collaboration comes down to being able to speak in shared concepts. The term "justice," for example, is an English word that's hard to translate into the Anishinaabe language. Chiblow says that because her community sees itself as belonging to the land, and being part of the land, the Anishinaabe worldview, and therefore their understanding of justice, is necessarily more holistic than the mainstream.</p><p>"Indigenous people have been feeling [the effects of climate change] for so long," Chiblow says. Today, as wildfires rage across the West, the mantra of "I can't breathe" is being driven home on a grand scale. For better and worse, climate justice is finally a front-page story.</p><p>"It's affecting the broader society," Chiblow says. "We're finally at the turning point where we could start to make real change because … people are really starting to feel that urgency."</p><p>The urgency will be tantamount in the coming election. A lot is at stake, says Chiblow: "Incentives, funding, all-around agreement, and also the way we're able to manage our lands and ourselves as people."</p><p>Bullard, too, is insistent on urgency. "This election is one of the most important elections of a generation, because there's so many things at stake," he says. "We can't wait another 40 years on climate. We don't have that much time. We don't have 40 years to get justice."</p><p>Issues of climate justice will be on the ballot in state and local elections this fall, such as Nevada's proposed renewable energy standards and Louisiana's proposed disaster funding. And the topic has finally made it onto the national stage. Joe Biden called Trump a "climate arsonist" for not acting on or even admitting that the wildfires in California are clearly climate-related. The frequency and intensity of such disasters is indisputable.</p><p>"Hurricanes don't swerve to avoid red states or blue states. Wildfires don't skip towns that voted a certain way," Biden <a href="https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-address-west-coast-fires-confront-growing-threat/story?id=73000218" target="_blank">said in a speech on Sept. 14</a>. "The impacts of climate change don't pick and choose. That's because it's not a partisan phenomenon."</p><p>In many ways, the results of the upcoming elections will reflect the ways youth activists and older activists are able come to a common understanding of what climate justice means and what they want the future world to look like. </p><p>"There's a lot of knowledge built up in experience, and there's a lot of energy that's stored in young people," Bullard says. "When you put those two together, you have … an excellent recipe for potential success."</p>
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By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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