Native Young-growth Koa Wood–Its Market Appeal & Economic Significance

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This especially holds true when considering wood products. Variation in wood characteristics such as color and figure make each piece unique. The appeal of one piece of furniture or bowl over another is personal. Acacia koa is especially prized both in the Hawaiian Islands and globally. Its reputation comes primarily from pieces crafted from old growth trees.

A previous study looked at the quality of lumber sawn from young-growth trees from planted and natural stands, demonstrated the opportunities it presented, and engaged multiple generations in working with it. Central to the story is how old-growth koa is dwindling in supply with limited amounts available in the foreseeable future. The koa wood being used now comes from dead and dying trees with conservation programs to ensure that koa remains part of the Hawaiian landscape being slow to emerge. Keys to preserving the legacy of koa wood are engaging the next generation in the discussion and actively managing young koa trees so that it provides benefits they can see with their eyes and hold in their hands.

Thousands of acres of young (<30 years old) koa stands have naturally regenerated after logging and other disturbances. Little data is available for these second growth koa stands and much anecdotal information as to its inferiority for woodworking is common.  Active management in these young-growth stands will make available small-diameter trees within the next 5 years. This study will address sustaining traditional Hawaiian woodworkers through substitution of young-growth koa for the decreasing supply of old growth. While color and figure have been identified as key attributes in creating and marketing koa products, just the name koa has market recognition and creates desirability.

Objectives

(1)    collect color data from old growth koa lumber that can be used in comparison with color data measured on lumber sawn from young-growth koa trees during the previous research project

(2)    evaluate people’s perception of two important attributes of koa wood, its color and figure, at the annual Hawaii Woodshow (August 30 – September14, 2014) in Honolulu

(3)    compile observations of responses to young-growth vs. old-growth products (e.g., a bowl and a stool manufactured by local woodworkers) at the Hawaii Woodshow 2014

Target population and relevance

The entire value chain of young growth koa is represented in this study – from those growing and managing young koa stands, to the woodworkers who create products from koa wood, and the people who appreciate its qualities in different forms. Temporary employment opportunities for students will introduce them to the USDA Forest Service Research Stations and research opportunities. Woodworkers will have the opportunity to experience the pros and cons of working with young-growth koa wood. Visitors to the Woodshow will be exposed to the issues surrounding old growth koa and learn of benefits in managing a sustainable, ecologically and economically important resource of the Hawaiian culture. Partners in this project include Hawai`i Forest Institute, whose mission is to promote the health and productivity of Hawaii’s forests through forest restoration, educational programs, information dissemination, and support for scientific research, the University of Hawaii that can provide outreach and opportunities to its students, and the Hawaii Forest Industry Association whose programs promote healthier forests, increased business in Hawaii’s estimated $30.7 million annual forest industry, and more employment within the sector. We will also be working closely with Island woodworkers in assessing young koa properties.

Proposed outcomes and measures of success

  • Provide the opportunity to engage students in the research process and discussion of sustainably managing a natural resource of cultural, ecological and economic importance to the state of Hawaii and exposing them to USDA Forest Service Research employment opportunities
  • Demonstrate the level of market acceptance of young koa and products created from its wood and how that could lead to its management and thus ensure a sustainable supply for woodworkers
  • Address community economic stability, particularly on the Island of Hawaii, where a significant number of loggers/sawmillers and secondary wood products manufacturers have a legacy of dependence on the dwindling old-growth koa resource
  • Heighten awareness of potential uses for young-growth koa that may allow this sustainably produced resource to fill certain market niches in order to reduce pressure on the old-growth koa resource so it will not disappear entirely (and with it, its cultural legacy for native Hawaiians)
  1. How does the cooperating organizations contribute to the PNW goals for workforce diversity?

Students from UH (Islands of Hawaii and Oahu) will be engaged in project discussions, data collection and analysis of a culturally significant natural resource.

  1. List the ways members of the target population will be engaged in the proposed research.

The Hawaii Woodshow typically draws about 4,000 people, both from the islands and visitors to the islands. Having local students interact with the public about a resource that has cultural, ecological and economic significance can inform conversations about its management in the future. Research undertaken in evaluating wood quality properties of the raw material involves working with local landowners and wood products manufacturers.