Reforesting Hawaii’s koa for future generations.
“By demonstrating the economic and sustainable value of these forests, we encourage more forestry that’s good—not just for conservation, not just for tonewood, but for the community, too.”
Stewardship conservation project
Orchard for koa seed
Acquired for koa plantation
Of forest under restoration
A Partnership and a Vision
Siglo Tonewoods was formed in 2015 as a partnership with a vision—to conserve, restore and grow one of Hawaii’s great assets – the koa tree. And to continue the musical legacy of koa for generations to come.
Koa lumber was widely available until about 2002; after that it was harvested chiefly, and unpredictably, from salvage. 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 koa trees that had been stunted in their growth by grazing cattle, an ongoing issue with koa growth and conservation.
These small, young koa trees were problematic in terms of their development, but it turned out they were suitable for instrument making. Tens of thousands of guitars were subsequently built from koa trees originally thought to be unsuitable for this purpose.
Cultivating Extraordinary Koa
Working with Haleakala Ranch and Native Nursery on Maui, Siglo embarked on a cooperative cultivation of elite lines of koa trees.
Starting with superior koa trees from Haleakala, Kevin Burke from Pacific Rim Tonewoods, in collaboration with Native Nursery, began the meticulous task of propagation. Our collective goal was 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 logging equipment for better, more careful utilization of the forest.
At the time, very limited equipment was available on the Big Island. Siglo brought over a John Deere forwarder, purchased in Scotland, a Unimog truck from Bavaria, and an excavator and a bulldozer from mainland US. This equipment allowed us to harvest and move the koa with care and consideration.
Forest Restoration at Honaunau
A 5-year stewardship conservation agreement was made with Kamehameha Schools on the Big Island of Hawaii.
In exchange for a partial cut of koa in a degraded 1400 acre forest at Honaunau, forest restoration was to be accomplished via reinvestment of all stumpage proceeds. The entire project has been fenced, and restoration forestry has begun.
A Market for Koa Veneer
At around this time, sliced koa veneer for backs and sides of guitars became commercially unavailable.
Siglo Tonewoods determined how to procure and prepare logs for veneer, and arranged to have custom slicing done by some of Pacific Rim Tonewood’s timber customers. The production of koa veneer become a profitable business for Siglo, while ensuring that the koa veneer needs for Taylor Guitars, a primary user of koa, could 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 near Waimea on the Big Island.
Once a legendary koa forest, this area had become grassland after years of cattle grazing. The land will be converted to koa plantations mixed with native trees and plants, and become the primary site for koa seed orchard planting.
Research Begins on Tree Improvement
Siglo initiated research in Hawaii with Dan Cress, Forest Geneticist at Regenetics, for the purpose of koa tree improvement and seed production.
Together with HARC, Dan worked to establish a series of experiments that will optimize the success of our seed production and reforestation programs. We hope to develop models for successful koa reforestation and afforestation at Siglo and beyond, and to catalyze replanting as much of Hawaii’s non-forested land as possible with these native trees.
Site Construction and Improvement
Warehouse and Mill Construction
With the goal of cutting koa locally on the Big Island, Siglo started construction of a warehouse at Kapaoula, with future plans for a portable mill.
Forestry Lease at Kealia
Siglo began work on a forestry lease with the Kamehameha Schools, to manage the Kealia property in South Kona.
Site Improvement and Planting
To keep the cattle out and the koa thriving, we continued our fencing at Honaunau and removed 16 cattle and 74 sheep at the fence’s closing. We also outplanted elite koa cultivars at Haleakala Ranch on Maui.
Siglo Partners with Nicholas Koch
Nick Koch, a local forester with extensive experience in managing Hawaiiʻs forests, became a partner.
With over 20 years of experience in the field, Nick is deeply interested in restoring, augmenting and improving Hawaii’s forests. At Siglo, we believe that in aligning the interests of the forest industry, landowners and the environment, we can benefit from the forests while bequeathing an intact resource for the future.
Siglo’s First Seed Orchard
We collaborated with Hawaii Agriculture Research Centre (HARC) to establish a 1600-tree orchard that will produce seed for future reforestation projects.
We planted pedigreed seedlings with the the best disease resistance that HARC had available; that population should yield Siglo and HARC large quantities of elite seed by about 2026. Through research and agronomy, we’re restoring koa across a wide range of environments throughout Hawaii.
Planted 20 Acres of Koa Forest
Under a state approved and financially supported plan, Siglo planted 20 acres of koa forest at the Kapaoula property on the Big Island.
This first planting was problematic but we learned from our efforts and hope to complete our afforestation there by 2030. Our intention is to create a perpetual diverse native working forest with the first useful harvest likely in 2050.
Seed Selection Program Begins
To help reforest Hawaii with the genetics of superior koa trees, Siglo began an island-wide seed selection and testing program to augment initial efforts by HARC.
We evaluated thousands of koa in native forests. Tree climbers were used to collect seeds from the best 42 of those ‘plus’ trees. Each tree was numbered and mapped to help with future collection. Some of the seed was sent to HARC for disease testing. They exposed hundreds of individually-labeled seedlings to a heavy dose of spores from the fungus that causes koa wilt disease. New seedlings from the very best of those families will be used to create future orchards.
Wilt Resistance Testing on Seedlings
Working once again with HARC, we began a testing program on koa seedlings for genetic resistance to wilt disease.
Koa wilt disease was introduced into Hawaii about 1980 and is now a problem throughout the islands. Almost 8 of 10 koa growing at less than 2500 feet in elevation will die from wilt, rapidly losing their leaves in just a few months. Siglo is addressing the problem by working with HARC to evaluate koa forests, collect seed and expose and test the seedlings for genetic resistance. Seedlings from the wilt-resistant families will then be planted in a series of long-term “progeny tests” to design even better seed orchards in the future.
Stewardship Conservation Project
In collaboration with Kamehameha Schools, we began a 5200 acre stewardship conservation project at Kealia Ranch in South Kona.
Our first step in conserving the forest was to install five miles of fencing to keep the cattle out. Our goal is to harvest koa over the next 25 years, in an area where there is almost no young koa due to over 100 years of 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 intend to manage abundance instead of decline, and expect there to be ten times the volume of koa that there is at present.
Planted 12,500 Windbreak Trees
Our site has excellent soil, adequate rain and good solar exposure, but it is also very windy.
To protect the new koa from harsh winds, we’ve planted thousands of fast-growing windbreak trees. These include Mexican cypress, Cook pine and various eucalyptus species. We also planted 30 acres of koa and mixed forest with the intention of maintaining it as a working forest.
Phase 2 Progeny Tests
At 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 HARC. Data collected from these test trees will be used to design our next seed orchard in about 2025. We also established a short-term “Site Prep Trial”. This comparison among several soil tilling and tree planting options will be used to optimize seedling survival and growth rates at Kapaoula and other sites.
A Model for Land Stewardship
At Siglo, we’re not just planting koa trees—we’re building a demonstration forest. One that will show how you can establish a forest on land, that for hundreds of years, has been converted to cattle grazing. We’ve developed a number of research projects that will tell us how we can be more efficient and successful at planting trees. One day, we hope Siglo will be a model for other stewards and land managers to consider koa forestry as part of their own strategies.
Tavana, musician and songwriter from Hawaii, plays a koa guitar built by Taylor Guitars.