2007 Environmental Heroes

They don’t wear capes. They don’t fly, or bend steel with their bare hands.


kanaha beachEvery year in our Environmental Issue, MNKO recognizes a few of Maui County’s resident eco-heroes—those who work hard at the grassroots level to restore and protect all things natural to the Islands. This year we’ve also included a few individuals striving to make a difference at the global level, by highlighting their attempts to lessen humanity’s impact on the planet . . . one step at a time.

With some help from nominations by our readers, we’ve selected six who pursue such work with diligence and passion. Mary Evanson (“High-Maintenance Woman”) has spent more than half a lifetime protecting the fragile ecosystem of the mountain Haleakala. For years, Dr. Fern Duvall (“Father Hen”) has kept close, careful watch over Hawai‘i’s endangered native birds. Meagan Jones (“Beauty and the Behemoth”) is inspiring the next generation by translating whale research to education. Shaun Stensohl (“The Can-Do Man”) is empowering mainstream awareness of the need to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” (a popular song by Jack Johnson) through his Bio-beetles and Maui Recycling companies.

And then there are the Kings—Robert and Kelly—royal monarchs of Pacific Biodiesel (“They Rule!”) who opened the United States’ first retail biodiesel plant on Maui a decade ago and have since built nine more across the country, and beyond. Even resident crooner Willie Nelson is on their bio-powered bandwagon.

It’s a privilege to honor these hardworking, yet humble men and women, who, by acting on their personal convictions, are making life better for all the inhabitants of this irreplaceable and finite planet.

Do you know someone who deserves recognition as an environmental hero for Maui? Mail your nomination, with a brief description of your nominee, to Managing Editor, Maui No Ka ‘Oi, 90 Central Avenue, Wailuku, HI 96793; email info@mauimagazine.net; or log on to www.mauimagazine.net. Mahalo!

Beauty and the Behemoth

If humans could live without sleep, Meagan Jones would gladly give up her 40 winks during whale season. From the first of January to the middle of April, Jones is on the water seven days a week (weather permitting), from pre-dawn to dark.

“Every year, I’m dying to reconnect with the whales after eight months of doing analysis in the office,” Jones says. For the last nine years, Jones has been working with scientist and whale-song specialist Dr. Jim Darling and renowned National Geographic photographer Charles “Flip” Nicklin to catalog the behavior of humpback whales during breeding season in Maui waters.

In 2001, Jones, Darling and Nicklin formed Whale Trust, a nonprofit organization based in Pa‘ia and dedicated to bridging marine research with environmental education and conservation.

“Research lies at the heart of environmental education and conservation,” Jones says.  “Without science, we are limited not only in our understanding of the natural world, but also in our ability to create awareness and protect ecosystems and the species that inhabit them. As researchers, we have a responsibility to share the stories that have yet to be told about whales.”

Jones formerly worked as the educational director for another local nonprofit whale organization. But after five years, she was itching to get back into the field and find new stories. “There’s so much about whales that we don’t understand,” she says. “Even what we think we know, we don’t know.”

Now, as Whale Trust’s executive director, Jones pursues both fieldwork and education, weaving them together in a compelling way. “Meagan’s whole nature of taking what people learned with research and moving it into education means that we’re getting this information out to the public faster and better than ever before,” Nicklin says.

Last year, Jones helped start Whale Quest Kapalua, an annual three-day educational symposium at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. She has conducted research and developed marine education programs for students, naturalists and the public in French Polynesia, Africa, Australia, Alaska and Canada. She continuously translates research findings into a website, newsletter, brochures, and educational programs around the island, earning herself a national award in 1997 from the National Marine Educator’s Association.

For Jones, it all comes back to the same goal: strengthening our ability to protect the whales. As Whale Trust’s tagline says, “We can’t protect what we don’t understand.”

In an attempt to understand at least one angle of the vast, complex topic of humpback whales, Jones is working toward a Ph.D. in environmental studies. Her dissertation focuses on the mating strategies of female humpback whales and how the female fits into the social structure of the breeding grounds. In her continually evolving research, Jones has already discovered new behaviors and debunked existing myths.

Not bad for a kid from Louisiana who grew up wanting to be a veterinarian, never dreaming she would one day commune with 40-ton behemoths of the sea.

“My mom worked at the Natural History Museum, and she would bring home owls, ferrets and snakes and let them go inside the house,” Jones says. “My dad would freak out, but I loved the animals. I’ve always been an outdoors person.”

Although she was “landlocked” for most of her youth in Louisiana, Arkansas, New Jersey and Texas, the first time Jones saw the Pacific Ocean, she said, “I’m home.” She was a few weeks away from completing her master’s thesis in child development at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, when a professor offered her a chance to switch topics and study dolphins in Hawai‘i. Jones didn’t have to think long, even though it meant starting over on her thesis.

She’s been “home” ever since—and eager to get out on the water.

To learn more about Whale Trust’s educational programs and research findings, visit www.whaletrust.org.

—Sky Barnhart

Father Hen

Photo: Jason Moore

Dr. Fern Duvall, State wildlife biologist for the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry and Wildlife, has with that large title a very specific purview: Hawai‘i’s native birds and one winged mammal, the hoary bat. But if you combine everything Duvall does officially and on his own time for Maui’s environment, there isn’t much that walks, flies or sprouts that doesn’t get his attention.

An inveterate student of birds in his native Michigan, Duvall earned a Ph.D. in zoology before joining DLNR in 1984. He ran the department’s captive breeding program for nene (Hawaiian geese) and other endangered birds until becoming wildlife biologist in 1996. “There was no place better on earth to be a biologist,” he remembers. “Had Darwin ever come to the Hawaiian Islands, the Galapagos would’ve been totally boring to him.”
Duvall has authored the Hawaiian Endangered Forest Bird Recovery Team’s plan for Maui Nui, which has ranged from the tough ground-level work of trapping predatory feral cats to more scientific pursuits, like banding the birds with satellite markers. Thanks to such efforts, the Hawaiian dark-rumped petrel, or ‘ua‘u, has been discovered in great numbers on Lana‘i and monitored since its breeding season. Through banding hundreds of birds, Duvall told me, “We’ve discovered they fly from Lana‘ihale [on Lana‘i Island] to the Aleutians, 13,000 kilometers [about 8,078 miles] on foraging trips every couple of weeks!”

You can hear his excitement and admiration when he speaks of the ‘ua‘u’s voyages, or the rebound in the population of the ‘ua‘u kani, or wedge-tailed shearwater, once on the brink of oblivion. With the same enthusiasm, he graciously shares credit for his work, praising the “volunteer champions of native seabirds” in Kïhei, Ho‘okipa, and Kapalua, like the Surfrider Club and Bob and Liz Richardson in Kïhei. “I kindled this interest. I organized these efforts and did a public outreach, but it takes a community to protect these birds.”

Increasingly Duvall has focused on the task of teaching and enlarging this community. “Conservation work has to do with building joint grants and joint field projects. It’s too complicated to do alone.” Since there’s no state botanist, Duvall, tirelessly willing to lend a hand across vocational boundaries, works on projects such as managing wetland vegetation restoration in Kanaha Pond.

And as vice-chairman of the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC), a partnership of government and private organizations, he’s on the front line defending Maui’s ecosphere against threats to its exquisite and imperiled balance. He leads the current efforts to reduce the number of coqui frogs and veiled chameleons, which destroy both pollinating insects and residents’ quiet nights’ sleep; also on his agenda are culling mitered conures to stop these parrots from spreading avian disease; and guarding against invasives like the brown tree snake that devastated Guam’s bird population.

“We need to get better at prevention and response. We need to put effort, money and manpower into preserving our astounding endemic species from invasive ones.”

Recently Duvall, on one of his many hikes in the Makawao forest, discovered with his botanist colleague Hank Oppenheimer two new species of bellflower, one of which has been named cyanea duvallorum. It’s both an appropriately modest tribute to Duvall’s low-key but far-reaching work, and a symbol of what might be lost should it not succeed.

—Michael Stein

High Maintenance Woman

Haleakala has no better friend than Mary Evanson.

From the park at its peak to its wild coastline, Evanson has been a leader in preserving the mighty mountain she has loved for decades.

Born in Honolulu in 1921, Evanson first came to Maui as a small child to spend summer vacations in Kula. “I have wonderful memories of my brother and me getting on horseback together and following cattle drives and just having the run of the place. One time, after the road was built up to the top [in 1935], my father took us up to spend the night at the old rest house up on the crater rim.”

Sent to the Mainland when rumors of Japanese invasion followed Pearl Harbor, she met her husband while both were working for United Airlines. When United began to fly to Hawai‘i, they returned to the Islands.

In 1976, single again, Evanson visited a friend in Lahaina and decided to move to Maui. For a few years, she worked on the property she had bought in Kokomo, but finally realized, “I had become a hermit! I had to get involved.” She joined the Sierra Club, where she learned that Haleakala National Park needed volunteers for a fencing project designed to keep out feral goats and pigs. Evanson signed up. That was the beginning of a long relationship. Evanson made friends with staff at the park and helped with everything from counting silversword plants (to track the recovery of this endangered plant, endemic to the crater) to searching out old trails.

In 1996, seeing a need for the park to have advocates on the outside who could speak up in its defense, she helped found Friends of Haleakala, which makes regular service trips into the park and funds resource preservation projects with its Adopt-A-Nene program, honoring Hawai‘i’s endangered state bird, the nene  (Hawaiian goose).

Evanson’s emphasis is always on preserving natural resources within the park; she leaves controversies like the one surrounding downhill bicycle tours to others. She argues against commercial activities such as horseback tours within the crater. “You’ve got thousand-pound animals with iron shoes going down a sandy trail. It devastates the place.”

And her concern for preservation extends far beyond the national park’s boundaries. In 1983, she saw a copy of a 1977 plan for a state park along Maui’s southwestern coast, from Pu‘uola‘i to Kanaloa. “This is a very visionary plan, and it needs to be implemented,” she thought, and took the idea to Dr. Rick Sands, then-Sierra Club president. Along with attorney Anthony Ranken and native plant specialist Rene Sylva, they formed the nonprofit organization State Park at Makena, which was successful in preserving the area around Oneloa, or Big Beach.

Evanson’s still working on that vision. A few years ago, she campaigned for national-park status for the Keone‘o‘io area south of Makena; its fragile environment and archaeological sites are being overrun by hikers who often have little idea of the region’s value. That campaign failed, but Mary Evanson hasn’t given up.
At age 85, Evanson continues to hike into Haleakala and is happy to be a role model for others to get out and do something to save Maui’s threatened natural treasures.

—Jill Engledow

The Can-Do Man

The little fleet of “Bio-Beetles” in the yard of Maui Recycling Service recall, for those old enough, the carefree, fun-loving side of the 1960s—but they also embody a far more serious promise of that era, the pledge that millions in the dawning ecology movement took to make their environment cleaner and better. Bio-Beetles, billed as “the first all-biodiesel, environmentally friendly eco-rental cars in the world,” are not just the latest business of Maui Recycling owner Shaun Stensohl, but another step towards his visionary goal: a “zero waste, 100 percent sustainable” Valley Isle.

Stensohl has always had a passion for environmental issues. Throughout the early ‘90s, he worked for Greenpeace, opposing nuclear power plants in Texas. Ten years ago he was hired by Maui Recycling manager Paul Brandt, and his energy and zest for the possibilities inherent in the recycling business led him to take over the company in 2001.

“It’s a difficult industry to be in,” Stensohl admits. He got a major taste of that when the State stopped Maui Eko Compost from taking Maui Recycling’s mixed paper, because paper hadn’t been included in Eko Compost’s original permitting specs. Maui Recycling temporarily had to landfill paper, was out front with its customers about it, and lost business nevertheless.

Stensohl rolls with the punches with a combination of candor, wit, and feistiness, and is often willing to take another hit, financial or otherwise, for his own blend of corporate environmentalism. He’s added steel cans and batteries to his curbside recycling service, even though “from a cost perspective it makes no sense.” In a statement worthy of Yogi Berra, Stensohl points out, “It’s easy to recycle easy-to-recycle things.” He wants Maui Recycling to purge Maui’s environment of the harder stuff, which now includes printer cartridges and cell phones placed in clear plastic bags. Maui Recycling will one day take in, if Stensohl has his way, everything from tennis shoes to paint thinner to electronics of all kinds.

Stensohl, a perennial gadfly for his cause, urges his customers to write letters to the government to be more proactive on recycling issues. He’s pushing for additions to the recycling infrastructure, like a new baler to compact paper, and—remembering Eko Compost’s problems—a faster and simpler permit process.

Meanwhile he nurtures his brood of Bio-Beetles (which now numbers 20 cars on Maui and 8 in Los Angeles), as well as the resurgence of Maui Recycling, which has grown from 260 to 340 curbside accounts. In 2004, Stensohl ran for office as a Green candidate against state Senator J. Kalani English, but he’s now convinced that the best way to advance his environmental aims, from greatly increased biodiesel usage to solar panels on every Maui roof, is by expanding his businesses. “While I enjoyed being an activist in the ‘90s, in business, I make it happen every day. There’s real power in that.”

—Michael Stein

They Rule!

In 2006, the Department of Energy’s Advancing Renewable Energy Conference determined that “developing energy-efficient and cost-effective methods of producing alternative fuels will require transformational breakthroughs in science and technology.” Tell that to Robert and Kelly King, owners of Pacific Biodiesel, who keep Maui’s diesel trucks and cars running on “Hawai‘i’s proven alternative fuel” every day.

From their earliest facility at the Central Maui landfill, Pacific Biodiesel has expanded to nine plants producing biofuel across the U.S. and in Nagano, Japan. Now 10 years old, Pacific Biodiesel is celebrating its milestone anniversary with the construction, appropriately, of a 10th biodiesel plant in Gonzalez, California. Somewhat late in the day, the Kings won the 2006 National Recycling Coalition Award for Outstanding Recycling Innovation.

Kelly King, marketing director, cheerfully recalls that “we started the company with only one employee”:  her husband, Robert, a veteran diesel mechanic who held a maintenance contract through his King Diesel company at the Central Maui Landfill. There the problem of disposed cooking oil and restaurant grease was demanding attention in the worse way—by catching fire in various corners of the dump. King spent his spare time investigating Mainland reports on the new science of processing cooking oil into fuel, with the goal of diverting the waste from the Central Maui landfill. After teaming up with agricultural expert Daryl Reece on the design and construction of a small biodiesel plant, within six months, on space offered by the landfill, he’d opened the first biodiesel retail pump in the United States.

Greeted with blunt skepticism at first, their product gained more of a following as its price became comparable to regular diesel. King ingeniously modified his process to convert grease-trap oil into a less pure biofuel suitable for boilers, and soon was removing 140 tons of the ugly gunk from the landfill each month.

Ten years later, Robert King’s efforts to keep combustible grease and sludge out of the landfill have proven so successful that it’s now illegal to dump cooking waste on Maui. And biodiesel has become the low-cost, low-emission alternative to regular diesel fuel on the island. The Kings have responded not by trying to reap a windfall, but promising to keep prices stable each year to help Maui business. They seek to use Maui feedstocks whenever possible to supplement the restaurant grease, and because they believe, in the words of Kelly King, that “all sustainability is local,” they support policies that keep Maui agricultural lands productive. Envisioning a future where Maui and Hawai‘i could literally farm their own energy independence, Pacific Biodiesel has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency for a $100,000 grant to grow crops suitable for biodiesel, including kukui, coconut, jetropha, and even avocado.

Robert King told me he gets an unusual response for a fuel provider. “People fill up their car and thank us for making biodiesel.” And the Kings have received enthusiastic marketing and financial support from Maui resident Willie Nelson in their Mainland expansion. Willie sings the praises of biodiesel to truckers listening to his XM radio station, and has partnered with Pacific Biodiesel in a Texas plant. Paying him back just a little bit, in 2005, the Kings joined the Nelsons for a Thanksgiving feast and, using the company’s mini-reactor stowed in their truck, took turkey fryer grease, converted it to biodiesel, and sent Willie’s car on the road again with his favorite 21st-century fuel.

—Michael Stein


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