In the Island of Hawaii, where vast native forests of koa and sandalwood have long been lost to logging, cane fields and ranching, a major reforestation effort is under way. Hawaiian Legacy Tours, part of a nonprofit organization called the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI), is providing a number of ways for visitors, including meeting groups, to help restore native hardwoods to the island. 

Established seven years ago, HLRI has planted over 400,000 hardwood trees across 1,200 acres of former pastureland along the Hamakua Coast and recently acquired another 700 acres at Kahua Ranch where it intends to plant 250,000 trees. The organization recently acquired a 500-acre location on Oahu as well. 

According to Jeff Dunster, executive director, the environmental impact of the legacy trees is significant.

“We’re seeing endangered Hawaiian birds coming back to the forest, including owls and hawks and the ne ne goose, and the rare koa butterfly,” he said. “It’s even changing the weather by bringing more rain to the area.”

Partnering with local resorts and DMCs. Hawaii Legacy Tours arranges outings for groups that want to come out for a few hours of tree planting and also enjoy a picnic lunch at the site or even a farm-to-table gourmet dining experience. Afterward, participants are able to track the growth progress of the trees they planted by logging into the organization’s website.  

“Every tree has a computer chip and you can literally watch your tree grow over the years, which makes the experience very personal,” Dunster said. 

While the tree-planting activity is usually limited to 35 people at a time, Hawaiian Legacy Tours has accommodated larger groups by staggering them over several days. Groups that would rather not engage in the planting have the option of sponsoring trees by making a donation.

Another option is to combine a tree-planting activity with a helicopter tour over the island provided by Paradise Helicopters, which has a partnership with HLRI. Paradise also offers passengers the option of purchasing certified “carbon credits” on its tours throughout the Hawaiian Islands that go toward the reforestation efforts. 

“We can fly groups of up to 24 passengers to the hardwood locations,” said Calvin Dorn, CEO of Paradise Helicopters. “When you fly into the area, you see the dramatic change to the environment that reforestation has brought—forests are replacing areas that were once degraded.”

Also partnering with HLRI, the Hawaii Convention Center recently announced a commitment to support the planting of a million native trees across the state. Links for donations are included on the Meet Hawaii website.