Reforesting Hawai'i’s koa for future generations.
“We’re researching the best ways to sustainably grow trees, forests and koa wood for generations to come. Our focus on new planting and forest recovery is good for land stewardship, and the community.”
In forest recovery projects
Orchard for wilt-resistant koa seed
State-approved koa reforestation project
25 Koa Trees
Planted for each tree harvested
A Partnership and a Vision
Siglo Tonewoods was formed in 2015 as a partnership with a vision. To conserve, restore and grow one of Hawai'i’s great assets – the koa – and to continue the musical legacy of koa for generations to come, by ensuring its long-term abundance.
Koa lumber was widely available until the late 1900s, and for a long time was a by-product of land clearing for agriculture in Hawai'i. After that, it was harvested chiefly, and unpredictably, from salvage, dead and dying trees. By 2015, it had become almost unavailable. At this time, Bob Taylor (Taylor Guitars) and Steve McMinn (Pacific Rim Tonewoods) began looking into the "why". Their idea was to create continuous instrument wood supplies by growing and restoring koa forests, and to create a bridge to these future supplies by carefully using the wood available in the present.
Harvesting Koa at Haleakala Ranch
At Haleakala Ranch on Maui, Siglo harvested 30-year-old planted koa trees that had been stunted in their growth by introduced axis deer. Grazing animals are a common challenge for native forests of Hawai'i, nibbling away at native plants and shrubs, especially koa.
Until this Siglo project, koa less than 50 years old was not considered useable, even less so for musical instruments. The trees were small – stunted by grazing ungulates, and needed to be replaced due to incipient rot in the upper stems.
The resulting koa, while young and somewhat problematic, was in fact suitable for instrument making. With the help of Taylor Guitars, who went to great effort to condition the wood sufficiently, tens of thousands of guitars were subsequently built from these koa trees.
Cultivating Extraordinary Koa
Working with Haleakala Ranch and Native Nursery on Maui, Siglo embarked on cooperative cultivation of elite lines of koa trees.
We started with koa trees that had superior wood characteristics, such as figured grain or striking colors. Kevin Burke from Pacific Rim Tonewoods, in collaboration with Native Nursery, then began the meticulous task of vegetative propagation of cuttings arising from these special stumps. Our collective goal is to restore the geographic range and quality of koa that had been diminished over the last centuries.
Investment in Logging Equipment
As part of the goal for vertical integration, Siglo invested in new log handling equipment for better, more careful utilization of harvested trees.
Limited equipment is available on Hawai'i Island. Siglo brought over a John Deere forwarder, purchased in Scotland, a Unimog truck from Bavaria, and an excavator and bulldozer from mainland US. This equipment allowed us to implement a Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) methodology, where all wood is carried, rather than dragged, out of the forest. The results of this methodology are cleaner logs and less impact on the forest floor.
Forest Restoration at Honaunau
A 5-year forest stewardship conservation agreement was made with a land owner on Hawai'i Island.
Forest restoration has begun with the installation of several miles of protective fence to remove feral grazing animals in exchange for selective harvest of koa in a degraded 1,400 acre forest. All proceeds will go into protecting and regenerating this forest over the next 5 years.
A Market for Koa Veneer
Sliced koa veneer for guitar backs and sides has become almost unavailable. Siglo Tonewoods embarked on a project to solve this dilemma.
Veneer makes more efficient use of valuable koa wood, allowing for better utilization and affordability in musical instruments. We determined how to prepare logs for veneer, and arranged to have custom slicing done. The logs were not typical dimensions for veneer slicers, so it initially took some convincing. Now, the production of koa veneer has become a profitable business for Siglo, while ensuring that the koa veneer needs for Taylor Guitars, a primary user of koa, can be met.
Land Acquisition for Koa Planting
With an eye to the future of sourcing koa wood, Bob Taylor purchased 565 acres of land at Kapaoula, between Waimea and Honoka'a on Hawai'i Island.
Once a legendary koa forest, this area had slowly become grassland after years of cattle grazing. The land will be reforested with koa and koa-‘ōhi’a native forest, and become the primary site for koa seed orchard planting, as well as our planned sawmill.
Research Begins on Tree Improvement
For the purpose of koa tree improvement and seed production, Siglo has engaged Dan Cress, quantitative geneticist and owner of Regenetics. Our first task is to install a well designed progeny trial and seed orchard.
Together with the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC), Dan is assisting us in the design and installation of a series of experiments that will optimize the success of our seed production and reforestation programs.
As always, we hope to develop models for successful koa reforestation and afforestation at Siglo Kapoaula and beyond, and to inspire our friends, neighbors and fellow landowners to plant native forests for the future.
Local Warehouse & Mill Construction
We began construction of a warehouse at Siglo Kapaoula and plan to use this site for a Hawai'i-based sawmill and wood drying operation. The goal is to cut koa and other locally grown hardwoods.
The Siglo mill and warehouse will provide technical and support jobs for the community. As well, the facility should help meet the demand for local wood, especially for koa wood, which is in short supply. Having the mill on Hawai'i Island also means that the offcuts produced by milling wood will remain in Hawai'i, rather than needing to be shipped to the continental US.
Removing Ungulates from South Kona Forest
Now that there is a strong fence surrounding our initial project in South Kona, Siglo has begun to remove the remaining feral animals from the forest. In all, 16 cattle and 74 sheep were driven from the fence unit. With the grazing animals gone, koa has begun to regenerate throughout the forest.
Siglo Partners with Nicholas Koch
Nick Koch, a forester with extensive experience in managing Hawai'iʻs forests, became a partner with Siglo.
With 21 years of experience practicing forestry in Hawai'i, Nick is deeply invested in restoring, augmenting and improving the financial viability of Hawai'i’s native tropical forests.
At Siglo, we believe that by aligning the interests of the forest industry, landowners and the environment, our current generation can benefit from these forests, while passing on an improved forest resource for the next generation.
Planting our First Seed Orchard at Siglo Kapoaula
Siglo collaborated with Hawaii Agriculture Research Centre (HARC) to establish a 1,600-tree provenance trial and seed orchard that will produce seeds for future reforestation projects for Siglo and our neighbors. This is the largest provenance and seed orchard in the State of Hawai'i and we hope to establish several more.
We planted pedigreed seedlings with the best disease resistance that HARC had available; that population should yield both Siglo Tonewoods and HARC large quantities of elite seed by about 2026, perhaps sooner. Through research and classic tree improvement, we are restoring koa across many environments throughout Hawai'i.
Planted 20 Acres of Koa Forest
The State Board of Land and Natural Resources approved and financially supported Siglo's 10-year forest management plan. Over the next decade we plan to reforest 565 acres of the property with a mix of koa and other native forest species. The first potential harvest will take place around 2050, assuming all goes to plan!
The final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact can be found here.
Seed Selection Program Begins
To help reforest Hawai'i with the best quality and disease-resistant koa trees, Siglo began an island-wide seed selection and testing program to expand on the pioneering work done by the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC).
We evaluated thousands of koa trees in approximately 2,000 acres of native forests. Tree climbers were used to collect seeds from the best 42 of those ‘plus’ trees. Each tree was numbered and mapped to allow us to revisit in a future collection. About 100 seeds from each “mother tree” were sent to HARC for disease testing. Under laboratory conditions, the saplings were exposed to a heavy dose of spores from the fungus that causes koa wilt disease. New seedlings from the very best survivors of those families will be used to create future orchards.
Forest Stewardship License in South Kona
Siglo began work on a new forest stewardship license in South Kona. The initial project will protect 800 acres within the first 5 years, continuing on to regenerate most of the 5,200-acre parcel over a planned period of 25 years.
Wilt Resistance Testing on Seedlings
Working again with our partners at the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC), we began a testing program on koa seedlings for genetic resistance to wilt disease.
Koa wilt disease was introduced into Hawai'i around 1980, and is now problematic throughout the islands at elevations below 2,500 feet ASL. As much as 80% of koa planted at less than 2,500 feet in elevation will eventually die from wilt, which usually makes its appearance at around the 4th to 7th year of growth.
Siglo Tonewoods is addressing the problem by working with HARC to evaluate low-elevation koa forests, collect seeds and expose and test the seedlings for genetic resistance to the disease. Seedlings from the wilt-resistant families will then be planted in a series of long-term progeny tests to find the most resistant and best performing koa tree to use in future seed orchards.
Stewardship Conservation Project
Siglo began field work on a 5,200-acre stewardship conservation project in South Kona. Our first step in conserving the forest will be installing a 6-foot tall fence that is 5 miles long. This fence will protect about 800 acres of montane native forest habitat, and keep out the feral cattle, sheep and pigs.
Our long-term goal is to regenerate this project area over the next 25 years; there is almost no koa regeneration due to over 100 years of active grazing. When our work is complete, there should be a diverse native forest, free of predatory animals and with a much-diminished weed presence. We estimate that there will be a 10-fold increase in the koa volume on the property at the end of the project in 25 years.
Planted 12,500 Windbreak Trees
Our site has excellent soil, adequate rain, and great solar exposure, but it is also very windy. Young koa trees are easily damaged by the gusty winds we get on this site. Our normal daytime winds are 15-20 miles per hour with gusts to 25 mph.
To protect the new koa from harsh winds, we've planted thousands of fast-growing trees three rows deep along 8 miles of windbreak. We picked trees that are not invasive, are moderately fast growing and display either thick crowns or superior height – or both. These include eucalyptus that are known for their wood quality: Eucalyptus nitens, Eucalyptus fastigata, Eucalyptus dunii and Eucalyptus regnans. Evergreen species include Mexican cypress (Cupressus lusitanica), Cook pine (Araucaria columnaris), podocarpus (Podocarpus elongatus), and coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens).
While wood production is not the main objective, we did consider the eventual use of these trees as part of the program.
Phase 2 Progeny Tests
At Siglo Kapaoula, we extended our research to include Phase 2 of a series of long-term progeny tests.
These pedigreed seedlings are from the best families identified in the most recent round of disease testing at Hawaii Agriculture Research Centre (HARC) and collections from the windward (east) side of Hawai'i Island. Data collected from these test trees will be used to design our next seed orchard in 2025.
We also established a short-term “site preparation" trial to compare several soil tilling, weed control, and fertilization options. This will be used to optimize seedling survival and growth rates at Siglo Kapaoula and other sites. It is also intended as a demonstration of site preparation techniques.
Koa Seed Collecting with Forest Solutions
To identify candidate mother trees, Forest Solutions closely followed the procedure established in 2021 with the Hōnaunau Conservation Area koa seed collection. In areas with abundant koa trees at low elevations and with landowner permission, Forest Solutions set up transects throughout accessible areas of the properties, spaced about 100 meters from each other to locate candidate trees for seed collection. Selected trees are straighter with fewer branches, are healthy and produce seeds.
For the summer of 2022 effort, 81 new koa trees (those not previously screened for disease resistance) across nine different sites were considered, of which 54 trees had seed collected for disease resistance screening. Koa seeds were cleaned by Kealakekua Forest Nursery, managed by Forest Solutions. For each mother tree, a subset of approximately 100 seeds were sent to the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC) for disease screening. The remaining seed was dried and packaged for short‐term storage separated by mother tree. These will serve as accessions in an upcoming disease resistant seed orchard.
Plant Check at Maui Native Nursery
In preparation for the upcoming planting season, it is important to check in with the grower to ascertain when the seedlings will be ready and optimal for planting.
Nick Koch visited Maui Native Nursery, counting out 2,340 wilt-resistant koa seedlings that were ready for shipment to the Siglo Holding Nursery near the Kapoaula planting site. Nick also had a chance to look over the 1,000 Cook pine being grown for the final segments of the windbreak planting.
Recovery Underway After 6 Years of Forest Management
In our older forest stewardship project, 1,400 acres continue to regenerate quickly now that the grazing animals have been excluded. In May we continued to manage the weed population; now approximately 1,000 acres, or 75% of the project, has been treated. We expect 1,000 plus seedlings from the nearby Kealakekua Forest Nursery in July 2023. These seedlings were produced with seeds from the very best trees within the project, enhancing future forest productivity and vitality.
Forest recovery – Fencing and Weeding
In our other South Kona project, Siglo has completed nearly 2.4 miles of fencing to protect an additional 800 acres of degraded native forest. We expect to fully enclose the area in the coming months, and begin reducing the grazing animals within. This initiative begins the long journey toward forest recovery projects in South Kona that began in 2017.
Siglo Kapoaula - Working with Partners
Siglo Tonewoods has had great success working together with Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC) for the seedlings, and Forest Solutions for efficient site preparation. This partnership enabled us to plant 26 acres more than originally anticipated, bringing the total for this year to 39 acres and 7,800 seedlings.
We are wrapping up our annual planting at Siglo Kapoaula this month, and have picked our first two seed pods from the 2021 progeny trial. These are the first of many disease-resistant seeds we expect to produce over the years to come.
A Model for Commercial Native Forest Management
At Siglo, we’re not just planting koa trees—we’re building a demonstration forest; a forest based on the best available science and tree growing techniques. We have invested heavily in research to further our understanding of how to grow native forest species. Focussing on koa in a commercial context, we're also planning for climate change resiliency through disease resistant cultivars. One day, we hope that Siglo will be a model for other stewards and land managers to consider koa forestry as part of their land management strategy.
Tavana, musician and songwriter from Hawai'i, plays a koa guitar built by Taylor Guitars.