A Helping Hand

Green Magazine Hawaii

When the nonprofit Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI) started planning its new O‘ahu nursery and visitor center, a group of military veterans stepped in to help turn the dream into reality.

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In a bright yellow farmhouse on the North Shore of O'ahu, a team of five U.S. military veterans is helping protect Hawai'i's native and endemic trees for generations to come. Instead of shovels, they carry hammers and drills. And instead of dirt and seedlings, they work with windows, walls and floors.

These Handy Andy Hawaii workmen are donating their time to build a seedling nursery and transform a traditional farmhouse into the first-ever Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI) visitor center on O'ahu.

The nonprofit HLRI has permanently reforested more than 400,000 koa and Hawaiian sandalwood Legacy Trees on 1,200 acres above Umikoa Village on Hawai'i Island in the past eight years. The organization recently expanded its Legacy Forest program to Hawai'i Island's Kahua Ranch, which will cover 700acres. HLRI plans to start O'ahu Legacy Tree plantings in the next year and offer planting tours under the award-winning Hawaiian Legacy Tours soon after.

"Operating in an environmentally sound way is an important part of what we do at Handy Andy, so we asked ourselves how we could give back to support the Legacy Tree program," says Andrew Compean, a U.S. military veteran. He founded Handy Andy in 2017 to provide fellow veterans on O'ahu with living wage job opportunities in construction and home maintenance. "Our team of five workmen were proud to donate a total of $5,000 in time."

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Over the past several months, Handy Andy has helped build the new nursery for the Legacy Forest program and restored a 1,200 square-foot Hawaiian farmhouse with authentic touches like original double-hung windows. The company also built an adjacent 600 square-foot country store for HLRI.

"The Legacy Forest program is the first of its kind in the world," says HLRI Executive Director Jeff Dunster. "Handy Andy's team worked closely with us to provide our guests with an experience that they can't find anywhere else. Visiting the center is like stepping back in time, and that is what we are working to do with our native forests-restore them to their former glory."

HLRI's O'ahu Legacy Forest will span more than 500 acres, support more than 200,000 newly planted Legacy Trees and be home to numerous rare and endangered species. "This is the first Legacy Forest to feature predominantly Hawaiian milo, a rare tree known for its bright yellow flower and long prized for its wood to make bowls, calabashes, carvings and musical instruments," Dunster says. "This ahupua'a was once part of a great coastal native habitat. These lands stretched from sea level to the upper reaches of the Ko'olau Range and were dominated by hala, hau, kukui, koa, naio, sandalwood and milo trees."

HLRI uses state-of-the-art radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to record the growth, health, location and sponsorship details of each tree. Each tree can be tracked online through HLRI's new TreeTrackerTM program.

HLRI and sustainable forestry company HLH are working to reforest 1.3 million trees across the state-one for each person in Hawai'i.

For more on Handy Andy Hawaii, visit HandyAndyHawaii.com.

For more on how to plant a Legacy Tree through the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative, visit LegacyTrees.org.

Joy Miyamoto