A Onetime Rancher Wages Lonely War to Save Rare Plants

Working alone, by hand, one man is turning 100 acres of alien trees into a refuge for Hawaii’s endangered botanical treasures

Kauai Wildlife Refuge
Kauai Wildlife Refuge Wikimedia Commons

"I'm just undoing what my illustrious family did when they secured the land here 130 years ago," explains Keith Robinson, a lifelong resident of the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Robinson is a botanically xenophobic Robin Hood whose dream is to reestablish an authentic prehuman piece of Hawaii, a place now awash with introduced species of plants and animals.

In the 19th century, his ancestors bought the nearby island of Niihau from King Kamehameha IV for $10,000. Later they added thousands of acres on Kauai to their holdings. Today the family continues to limit access to the 75-square-mile island of Niihau.

Leery of outside intervention of any kind, Keith Robinson regards himself as a steward of the land. With little help or encouragement, he chain-saws and burns the old "alien forest," then plants, fences, waters, fertilizes and sprays precious seedlings — hauling everything he needs on his back to the 100 acres of land that he calls the Kauai Wildlife Refuge. This is the story of how one man has devoted his life to saving some of the world's rarest plants.

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