Falcataria moluccana was introduced to Hawaii over 100 years ago and has been identified as one of the most problematic invasive species affecting Big Island communities today. Possibly the fastest growing tree in the world, albizia forms weak, brittle wood, matures quickly, and spreads easily through wind-borne seeds. It poses a serious threat to both our natural environment and our public safety.
Albizia is notorious for its tendency to lose large, heavy limbs in even mild winds. Even before Tropical Storm Iselle, during which dozens of people were trapped for hours and several homes crushed, the residents of Puna had long dealt with the hazard of falling albizia. Outbuildings, fences, and cars were among the common casualties of albizia limbs. Albizia is prone to “sudden limb drop,” where hidden weaknesses in the limbs can cause branches to fall even with no apparent disturbance.
The costs to taxpayers and utility customers from albizia impacts is high. Besides the costs of removing trees that are direct threats, HELCO, HDOT, and the County routinely must deal with the impacts of trees falling from private property onto roads and power lines. HELCO estimates that it spent $13M responding to damage from Iselle, and the Hawaii Island branch of the state DOT estimates that 90% of all received calls about fallen trees are for albizia. Costs to individual property owners from trees falling on to adjoining properties have not been compiled, but are likely in the millions of dollars.
Addressing the Problem: Community Empowerment
Puna and Hilo residents are stepping up to improve the safety and well-being of their communities through control of albizia. BIISC works with community associations, boards, neighborhood watch groups, or community organizations that want to address albizia. We will work with the group and their designated liaison (an “albizia coordinator”) to train volunteers to assess tree safety, treat non-hazard trees, and track and monitor albizia. The group will also receive support materials to use in contacting property owners, private entities, or government agencies for help. BIISC outreach staff will work with community coordinators to address specific issues that arise as volunteers seek action on the hazard trees in their neighborhoods.
BIISC will continue to educate and work with our legislators on the problem, and seek paths through which community members can find assistance for removing this menace from their neighborhoods.