tnc logo

Hawaiian High Islands Ecoregion
This page last revised 05 September 2018 -- S.M.Gon III -- THIS IS AN ARCHIVE WEBSITE. Please see the current projects of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaiʻi 

Conservation Targets
TNC Action Sites


Maps & Figures
CPT Database
Forest bird
Forest bird habitat was the con­ser­va­tion focus of our first Hawaiian cam­paign (1981-83).

Rare natural community
Rare natural communities were the focus of our Islands of Life campaign in the late 1980s.


In 1998, The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i completed a Hawaiian High Islands Ecoregion Plan (TNC 1998). This document is a web-based revision of that plan. It retains key elements and foun­da­tions of the initial plan, while up­dating information, utilizing the most recent a­vail­able tools for assessment, and com­ply­ing with emerging TNC ecoregional assessment standards.

A TNC ecoregional plan follows a standard process to establish a portfolio of conservation areas that, if effectively managed, is designed to collectively conserve the biodiversity of an ecoregion. This website's pages (accessed by the menu items in the left column) follow that process in sequence for the Hawaiian High Islands Ecoregion.

History of TNC Biodiversity
Conservation Planning in Hawai‘i

Although a chapter office was opened in 1980, biodiversity planning by TNC in Hawai‘i had been active since the 1960s, when TNC-funded biological surveys led to the first acquisitions on Maui. The Hawaiian Forest Bird Campaign (1981-83) was the first land acquisition campaign of the Hawai‘i Office, and used recently completed comprehensive endemic forest bird surveys on all islands to identify high priority areas for acquisition. Some of our current flagship preserves (Waikamoi and Kamakou) resulted from this effort.

The late 1980s saw the focus switch from rare species to natural communities in our Islands of Life Campaign. This acquisition effort rounded out our core preserves across the archipelago. Planning for this campaign included developing a Hawaiian Natural Community Classification, the foundation of the floristic units currently in the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) compiled by TNC for the U.S. Department of the Interior (Grossman et al 1998).

The 1990s brought the realization that if TNCs efforts in Hawai‘i remained restricted to rare species and natural communities, and private lands, it would fail to realize its mission. This is because large holdings of state and federal lands contain equally important areas for biodiversity protection. Management of threats to large native ecological systems regardless of ownership is needed, or these areas will ultimately degrade.

(continued next column)

In 1995, TNC mounted a multi-agency planning effort that characterized and mapped the remaining native-dominated ecological systems of the Hawaiian archipelago (Pratt & Gon 1999). We collaborated with WWF to describe the Major Habitat Types present in the ecoregion (Olsen & Gon 1998). These efforts formed the foundation of our first iteration Ecoregional Plan (TNCH 1998). 

Hawaii Island Sites
Native ecological systems and conservation area designations of Hawai‘i Island 

In 2003, TNC's global office developed a series of ecoregional planning standards based on nearly eight years of lessons learned across the organization. These standards represent a minimum set of components and analyses that constitute an acceptable plan within TNC. The1998 Hawai‘i Ecoregional Plan did not meet the minimum criteria, because standards emerged after the Hawai‘i plan was complete. Bringing the 1998 plan up to internal standards was the primary impetus of this ecoregional assessment, completed in 2006. In 2008 a coastal assessment was completed, creating a portfolio of coastal sites as an addendum to this terrestrial ecoregional assessment. In 2015, this plan was realigned to global priorities and archived. It serves here as an archive of our planning process and as an information resource on the Hawaiian High Islands Ecoregion.

lehua icon
Continue to Ecoregional Description

Functional landscapes
Functioning, viable native ecological systems of the Hawaiian High Islands Eco­re­gion comprise our current focus.

Watershed partners
Federal, state, and private partners are involved in ecoregional planning.

Partners of the 1998 Ecoregional Plan
These agencies and organizations were actively involved in the 1998 planning process:
  • U.S. National Park Service
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Discipline
  • Hawai‘i Department of Land & Natural Resources
  • The National Tropical Botanical Gardens
  • University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa
       Department of Zoology
       Department of Botany
       Ecology, Evolution & Conservation Biology Program
  • Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
  • Hawai‘i Biodiversity & Mapping Program
       (formerly Hawai‘i
    Natural Heritage Program)

    click on the logos at right to visit partner websites...

nps logo uh brd
usfws     dlnr bish
HBMP logo NTBGlogo

Remote area management
Bringing active management to priority ecosystems is the primary goal.

feral ungulates
Alien species, such as feral ungulates, are a prevailing threat to native ecosystems in Hawai‘i.

Major Findings and Strategies of the 1998 Ecoregional Plan

The major findings of our 1st iteration Ecoregional Plan included four items:

  1. Landscapes comprised of native-domi­nated ecological systems occur on all the main islands, except  Ni‘ihau and Kaho‘olawe. These areas capture ~80% of the rare biodiversity in the islands.
  2. Protection of full diversity requires active management across all major landscapes of the archipelago. High levels of island and regional endemism mean that ecological systems on different islands are not equivalent. 
  3. Threat abatement across landscapes is a high priority need. All ecological systems suffer from ongoing threats, primarily alien invasive weeds and feral ungulates. 
  4. Ownership of the landscapes includes significant private, state, and federal lands. This necessitates a private-public partnership approach to conservation.

The emerging strategies of our 1998 Ecoregional Plan still guide our current work, and include the following:

  1. We (TNC and our conservation partners) should establish large, landscape-scale land management partnerships on all islands, based on shared values, such as protecting watershed services and native biodiversity.
  2. TNC will focus on actions that bring management to large, viable landscapes, although we recognize the mandate and importance of rare/endangered species programs.
  3. We should bolster alien species prevention, detection, and containment systems through policy changes, interagency action groups, and increased support for alien species programs.
  4. We should strive to increase the capacity of our state Department of Land and Natural Resources to apply needed management on its large holdings, of vital biodiversity importance.

MAP 1: In the 1998 Ecoregional Plan, the core of our strategies addressed key threats to the largest remaining native-dom­i­nated ecological systems. The landscapes comprised of those systems identified in the 1998 planning iteration are shown at right. 

Note: This figure is provided for historical interest only; this current plan includes updated maps and figures.

ecoregional map

Sam Gon III
Karen Poiani
Theresa Menard
Stephanie Lu
Mark Fox
Mark White



Hawaiian High Islands
Ecoregional Assessment Team:

Samuel M. Gon III, Ph.D
Team Leader. Terrestrial Plan
Senior Scientist / Cultural Advisor, TNC Hawai‘i

Karen Poiani, Ph.D.
Director of Conservation Programs, TNC Hawai‘i
(left Hawai‘i Program in 2007)

Theresa Menard
Conservation Planner / GIS Specialist, TNC Hawai‘i

Stephanie Tom
Team Leader, Coastal Plan
Conservation Programs Coordinator, TNC Hawai‘i

Mark Fox
Director of External Affairs, TNC Hawai‘i

Mark White
Director of Partnerships, TNC Hawai‘i
(left Hawaiʻi Program in 2015)

Jody Kaulukukui
Protection Specialist, TNC Hawai‘i

Jason Sumiye
Science Manager, TNC Hawai

tnc logo

Terrestrial Plan Project Team
The project team for the second iteration of the Hawaiian High Islands Ecoregion (members listed top left) was assembled in 2004 with a goal of revising the 1998 Ecoregional Plan to comply with current standards for ecoregional assessment. As a living plan, a web-mediated format was selected to allow for continual updates and links to ever-changing sources of data, evolving strategies, and guidance provided by The Nature Conservancy and our conservation partners.

Coastal Plan Project Team
The coastal team was assembled in 2007 with the goal of assessing conservation targets associated with the coastal zone, including coastal vegetation, seabird nesting concentrations, and anchialine pool communities. The team  includes Lu (team leader), Gon, and Menard from the terrestrial team, and adds Jody Kaulukukui and Jason Sumiye.

Contact the terrestrial ecoregional plan team leader, Dr. Sam Gon III or the coastal ecoregional plan team leader, Stephanie Tom, via this email with questions, suggestions, or requests related to this web document. 

lehua blossom

© 2006-2019 The Nature Conservancy, Hawai'i Chapter.
Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy