Longtime HVNP volunteer fights invasive species in park after retirement


With Omao chirping overhead, Jane, 80, and Paul Fields, 77, recently harvested Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ginger and enjoyed another day learning about the forest.

On a recent Friday, Fields assembled a group of four volunteers to guide them through the woods to cut down an invasive ginger.

The Fields have been volunteering in national parks for many years and have spent most of their retirement tending forests, fighting invasive species and giving native species room to grow.

Fields is the host of stewardship at the summit. This is his HVNP program that allows volunteers to help parks and Aina by cutting invasive Himalayan ginger on park trails.

The duo has been doing it consistently for ten years.

“I’ll be here every week unless I’m traveling or the park cancels the program for that day,” said Paul Fields. We fell in love with the area and knew we needed to be here when we retired.”

The Fields have lived in Hawaii for 50 years and lived on Oahu while working. Paul Fields was a professor of history at Windward Community College, and Jane Fields ran his office at the front of a dental practice.

The two had always wanted to play in the forest, but had no idea how it worked. Mission started.

“When they saw that we were serious volunteers, they explained to visitors how to cut down the plants successfully,” said Jane Fields. “We learned most of the knowledge from the park biologists and scientists and were able to develop our stewardship in the summit program.”

Fields has regulars attending most weeks, but we also frequently meet new people who may be visiting the Big Island on vacation.

“We have a family who volunteered for our honeymoon about nine years ago. Six years later, they reached out to us when we decided to come back with our twin boys.” said Paul Fields. “Our love of the forest keeps us going, but so are the people we meet along the way.”

Without dedicated volunteers, invasive species could encroach on the park’s forests, according to HVNP spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane.

“Paul and Jane are a wonderful couple who thrive on giving back to their community and the Aina they love,” Fellacaine said. “They work tirelessly to protect Hawaii’s rainforests. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is very fortunate and grateful for their stewardship of the summit program.”

Michael Reideman has been volunteering at Fields for a while and loves helping the forest and the couple’s mission.

“I come here whenever I can, which means it’s a great excuse to get out in the woods and contribute,” Reidemann said. “Paul and Jane were one of the first people I met when I moved in with his COVID-19. , I wanted to go and help them.”

Ginger and other invasive species will soon return and the work will never be completed, but Fields has seen dramatic changes in the areas of forest where he has worked.

“The park’s mission is to protect and preserve natural flora and cultural practices. The threat of ginger could wipe out ohia and native birds,” Jane Fields said. “This helps the forest regenerate and we see it happening right before our eyes. It’s a rewarding job.”

Paul Fields was thrilled to hear the call of the Omao (Hawaiian Thrush), which is important for forest growth. Unlike the iiwi (Hawaiian honeyeater), the omao is a fruit-eating bird that naturally carries the seeds of native plants.

“The forest itself is a prize enough. We fell in love with Volcano before we fell in love with each other, and now we can play in the forest like we always have,” said Paul Fields. “It wasn’t the plan to cut the ginger, but it was the plan to be here. We have fun and we make a difference.”

“I will stop when this stops being fun, but I don’t think that will happen any time soon.”

For more information on stewardship in the Summit program, please visit tinyurl.com/4xwj2uka.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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