University of Hawaii at Hilo students are gaining priceless experience while helping to preserve the environment.
Armed with markers and chainsaws, a team that includes UH Hilo students hikes into the Keaukaha Military Reservation Forest.
Their goal -- to create hybrid ecosystems where non-native species are removed and replaced with a combination of native and non-native plants.
"Our hybrid concept is something that is unique and pretty controversial out there, but we are hoping that it will have relevance beyond Hawaii," said UH Hilo Biology Professor Rebecca Ostertag. "Because not only are we just asking some management questions, we are asking questions about fundamentally how different plant communities assemble."
The invasive trees are first marked, then brought down. The test is to see if this will create a self-sustaining forest that needs little or no maintenance.
For UH Hilo students, it's the hands-on experience that means so much.
"Getting out there and actually doing it is one thing and reading it on paper is another, so get out there, get your hands dirty and, you know, just do some work," said UH Hilo student Taite Winthers-Barcelona.
"It is a great experience for them to see what it is and to understand also what science is involved and what scientists do," said Ostertag.
The project is a partnership between UH Hilo, Stanford University, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service and the Hawaii Army National Guard.
The $1.5 million, 5-year project is funded by the U.S. Dept. of Defense.