2010 Environmental Heroes - Maui Magazine - March-April 2010 - Maui, Hawaii
Meet seven Maui residents who display a heroic commitment to our island's environment.
Story by Sara Smith, Jen Aly, Teya Penniman, Susanne Gnagy, Matthew Fullmer and Rita Goldman
They protect endangered species, preserve the wilderness, and reverse the harm we humans do to land and sea. Heck, they’re even impervious to kryptonite.
What turns an ordinary human into a champion of the environment?
The folks we highlight in these pages can’t leap tall buildings or bend steel in their bare hands. Only one or two wear special costumes when defending Mother Earth.
But they do share a remarkable power: They can see how enormous a job it is to save a planet, and instead of becoming discouraged, grow enthusiastic at the myriad possibilities for making a difference. And through their conviction, in very different ways, they’re showing the rest of us that we can, too.
Last Thanksgiving, the Erdman family gave Maui something to truly be thankful for: permanently protecting more than 11,000 acres of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch from future development.
Pardee and Betsy Erdman purchased the ranch in 1963. In time, sons Christian and Sumner got involved; the latter now serves as ranch president. As if running a viable ranching operation in Hawai‘i weren’t challenging enough, the Erdmans practice a holistic approach to stewardship that includes proper pasture management, invasive-species eradication, extensive reforestation efforts, and revitalizing the watershed.
It’s a formidable task, encompassing 18,000 acres that stretch from shoreline to an elevation of 6,000 feet and span three different ecological zones. The Erdmans succeed, in part, through innovation.
“We’re always focusing on the next problem,” says Pardee. To stay ahead of ever-changing invasive weeds, the Erdmans use a system called managed multispecies grazing. Rotating cattle, sheep, horses, and goats—which have different palates and eating habits—can help keep down weeds such as Sacramento burr and fireweed. Plus, hungry livestock reduce fire potential by devouring overgrown vegetation. This protects the maturing native ecosystems, which reciprocate by improving the water and mineral cycles—a symbiotic relationship that is key to the Erdmans’ balanced land-management strategy.
The Erdmans also collaborate with ten different private, federal, state, and county conservation agencies and organizations. Their most enduring partnership is with Dr. Art Medeiros of the U.S. Geological Service, who heads the Auwahi reforestation project—the state’s most successful restoration of native dryland reforestation—all of it on ‘Ulupalakua Ranch land.
In 2003, the Erdmans joined another Medeiros project: the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership, a collaboration of the region’s major landholders to restore more than 43,000 acres of native forests. The goal: to preserve habitat for many of Hawai‘i’s endangered plants and animals, and improve the health of the watershed. Native koa trees, for instance, are very important because their sickle-shaped leaves point down, ensuring that captured mist condenses into water that drips to the ground. The partnership’s efforts are working. “The water and mineral cycle has improved,” Sumner confirms.
Now, working with Maui Coastal Land Trust, the Erdmans have established an agricultural easement that will preserve 11,000 acres in perpetuity as a working ranch and native wildlife habitat. The easement includes one of Maui’s most iconic views—the glorious stretch of pastureland mauka (upslope) of Wailea—and all of Auwahi.
“This is the largest-ever voluntary-easement donation in Hawai‘i, a true gift for future generations of Maui,” says Dale Bonar, executive director of the Maui Coastal Land Trust. “The Erdmans have a strong love for the land . . . a decades-long commitment to conservation.”
If Sumner has his way, it won’t stop there. “It goes beyond just our family,” he says. “We hope to lead by example.”—Sara Smith