Regrowing Hawaii's Sandalwood Forest

My name is Jordan Westerholm, and I want to share a story with you that means a lot to me.  Once upon a time, the landscape of the Big Island of Hawaii was covered in a closed-canopy, sandalwood-dominated forest that grew from 10,000 feet in elevation all the way down to the coast.   Foreign interests saw to it that almost all of the sandalwoods on all Hawaiian islands were cut down for profit, rendering the indigenous forests of Hawaii all but extinct.  In 1992, a man by the name of Mark Hanson (the self-proclaimed Sandalwood Man) decided to dedicate his life to resurrecting the sandalwood forest, and since then has been propagating and growing baby sandalwoods from the seeds of the few surviving trees, planting them on Maui and Hawaii and educating the government and the public about their value as a keystone species.  
Today Mark and his small nonprofit, the Hawaiian Reforestation Program, are still planting on the slopes of Mauna Kea on Hawaii.  When I joined them a couple months ago, I had no idea that Hawaii even used to have sandalwood forests.  I learned that I was only one of the millions of people each year that visit Hawaii not realizing that the lush landscape they're seeing is an utterly broken habitat made up mostly of introduced plants and animals.  The large majority of Hawaii's native plants and animals are either threatened, critically endangered, or extinct.  The sandalwood forest that once supported this native ecosystem is 99 percent gone.
But not extinct.  Mark Hanson is the one hope that the sandalwood forest has, and after thirty years of teaching himself how to propagate, raise, and successfully plant baby sandalwood trees despite widespread criticism, he's still kicking... hard.  On my first trip up Mauna Kea, I couldn't watch this man replant a forest in rocky, treacherous ground in high elevation without committing to helping him.  Against all odds, including government indifference, public apathy, destructive invasive animals, old age, back pain, joint degradation, and dwindling resources, Mark is performing CPR (Collect seeds, Protect existing plants, Replant) on the sandalwood forest one seedling at a time and isn't going to stop.  It has been his vision since 1992 to see the forest regrown for the unborn generations that will follow him, to resurrect a habitat that not only can give Hawaii back its natural heritage, but help sequester carbon dioxide and feed people by building fertile soil.  
I am writing this because the Sandalwood Man needs help.  He's not doing what he does for himself.  He's doing it for Hawaii; he's doing it for us, and he's told me he wants to know that you care.  

We are seeking donations- there are four things for which we need funding in 2019:
          -Providing outreach education to local universities about what we do (this is our main need)
          -Attending conferences across the state to spread word of our mission
          -Traveling to Mauna Kea to plant the trees (gas money and vehicle maintenance)
          -Protecting seedlings from feral pigs through population management
*If you want your donation to go to any specific one(s) of these, please message us and let us know, and we will honor your request.  We want you to help the sandalwood forest in the way you want to, this cause belongs to all of us after all.  

Proceeds from this fundraiser will go directly to Mark Hanson, the Sandalwood Man, so that we can get right to work!  Any amount you can give is enough to show him you care.  Thank you so much in advance.
Your brother in hope,
Jordan Westerholm

More information about Hawaiian Reforestation Program:  We are a team of environmentalists dedicated to planting Hawai‘i Island with keystone species of native plants. Our main drive is to reforest the high elevation critical habitat of Mauna Kea.  Our main focus is with ‘Iliahi, the native Sandalwood tree.  Please visit the website at

More information about the Hawaiian Sandalwood:  
Did you know that sandalwood seeds are edible for humans?  They're called sandalwood nuts, can be eaten raw or roasted, and are shaped like little teardrops.  They were used as a food source by the ancient Hawaiians, and are the world's most nutritious nut!  The thin layer of purple fruit coating it can also be eaten.  Once mature, each tree can produce hundreds of these nuts each year, and they begin producing at just about seven-or-so-years-old.  Over time, the Hawaiian Sandalwood is actually more economically valuable as a food source than as the scented wood it was decimated for.
In addition to seeds, sandalwoods also reproduce through rhizomes, which are a special root that can sprout a new tree.  It has shown to be resistant to brush fires, probably due to this fact.  Sandalwood was nearly eradicated in Hawaii by being cut down and then the new rhizome sprouts were grazed down by introduced sheep, goats, cows and pigs.
When allowed to grow and fruit indefinitely, sandalwoods accumulate a mat of decaying fruit and seeds on the ground beneath them that supports a network of specialized microorganisms.  These microorganisms create links between other sandalwood trees and even between other plants, enabling them to share water and nutrients amongst one other.  The soil around sandalwood trees has been shown to be among the most biologically active ever tested, and thus must have been integral to the health of the old Hawaiian sandalwood forests.

Organizer and beneficiary

Jordan Westerholm
Hilo, HI
Mark Hanson

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