For over 177 years, Parker Ranch, a local leader in sustainability, has been steadfast in its commitment to environmental stewardship. Six years ago, its strategic plan was updated to include forestry management. In a bid to fortify its sustainability, the ranch has been actively engaged in the comprehensive management of its existing forest coverage, with an ambitious goal of doubling its forestry footprint. Noteworthy progress has been achieved, exemplified by the planting of over 19,000 trees in 2023 alone. This substantial reforestation endeavor primarily focuses on cultivating native species, prominently the koa tree, while also embracing other indigenous varieties like ‘iliahi (sandalwood) and select non-native hardwood species. The deliberate selection of these forestry species underscores Parker Ranch’s unwavering dedication to preserving and enriching native habitats within its expansive boundaries.
The pivotal question arises: how does one strike a harmonious balance between the cultivation and expansion of forest cover across the landscape, all the while preserving the essential grass forage required for livestock production and upholding the cherished legacy of the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy)? This delicate balance forms the core challenge that Parker Ranch navigates with precision and foresight in its pursuit of responsible land management.
“It’s not easy,” acknowledges Forestry Manager Zachary Judd. “On one hand you have 177 years of ranching heritage, producing some of the highest quality livestock available. On the other hand, you’re looking at potentially impacting that with the cultivation of forests, and the implementation of forestry management plans that require a much longer life cycle and carry exponentially more risk.”
Judd points to the challenges within the Hawai‘i forestry industry that has struggled to gain momentum, despite sporadic initiatives over the years, including the current ongoing effort that continues to face difficulties in achieving scale in the local marketplace.
“Traditional reforestation models don’t work particularly well for agricultural producers, especially here in Hawai‘i where land is limited, and operating costs are high. However, I believe there’s a middle route where thoughtful and innovative tree planting techniques can enhance the viability of an agricultural operation rather than displace it.”
Judd is referring to a growing trend in the community: agroforestry. This concept actively incorporates trees and shrubs into a productive agricultural operation. While Parker Ranch is certainly not a pioneer in this space across Hawai‘i, it presents unique opportunities for Hawaiian agriculture producers to remain profitable while expanding the numerous environmental, ecological, and economic values that forests provide.
From a ranching perspective, Parker Ranch has always understood that a healthy ecosystem is not just crucial for beef production; it plays a vital role in maintaining watershed health and providing wildlife habitat, elements integral to any land-based operation reliant on natural resources. The landowner’s focus on agroforestry is a stride toward enhancing this harmony. By integrating trees and shrubs into the cattle’s grazing areas, animal diets are diversified, and soil is enriched at various depths. This natural cycle of plant growth and decomposition is a cornerstone in creating a sustainable ecosystem. In addition, a higher level of carbon sequestration is fostered.
“As a ranch dedicated to livestock production, our responsibility extends beyond today’s operations to ensure that future generations can enjoy and benefit from this lifestyle. To this end, we are continuously exploring methods to reduce our carbon footprint. The reforestation initiative led by Zach Judd is a shining example of how conservation and production agriculture can not only coexist but also mutually prosper,” emphasizes Livestock Business Operations Manager Jacob Tavares.
Parker Ranch remains steadfast in its mission to contribute to the preservation of our natural resource endowment, bolstering the resilience of the native ecosystems, and advancing sustainable land stewardship practices. Over the next three years nearly 100,000 seedlings are to be planted in a wide range of locations across the ranch.
“The real challenge lies ahead,” Judd continued. “We are facing an environment that is changing at a rapid pace. The best we can do is plant trees in a way that gives a wide range of land-use opportunities for the next generation.” For more information or media inquiries, please contact Zach Judd at [email protected].
About Parker Ranch
Parker Ranch is one of the largest and oldest cattle ranches in the United States. Parker Ranch, Inc. is owned by Parker Ranch Foundation Trust whose beneficiaries are four non-profits: Queen’s North Hawai‘i Community Hospital, Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy, Parker School and Hawai‘i Community Foundation. To learn more, please visit www.parkerranch.com or www.prft.org.