The Hawaiian Islands are a uniquely diverse place on earth. Hawaii is the world's most isolated island archipelago and was one of the last places on earth to be discovered and colonized by humans. The extreme isolation of the islands produced, through evolution and speciation, a remarkable diversity of species that are found nowhere else on the planet. Approximately 1,033 plant species, 10,000 invertebrates, and 140 birds are native to the Hawaiian Islands of which 87% of the plants, 95% of the invertebrates and 100% of the forest birds are endemic (found nowhere else on earth). These natural treasures are integral elements of the biological and cultural heritage of the Hawaiian Islands and their people.
Hawaii has also seen extraordinary rates of extinction and endangerment. Over 265 species of the Hawaii biota have gone extinct. Tragically, extinctions continue at a rate of at least one species per year. In the last three decades alone, half of Hawaii's endangered forest bird species have disappeared, in all likelihood, lost forever to extinction. Currently there are 317 species federally listed as threatened or endangered. An additional 109 are listed as candidate species and species of concern. The need for research targeted towards solving resource management issues is tremendous. It is this recognition that led the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the USDA Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry to establish the Hawaii Experimental Tropical Forest (HETF).
Until now, Hawaiian forests were the only forests in the United States where no experimental forest existed. This deprived Hawaii and the Pacific Islands of the benefits of research, education, and demonstration products that would arise from experimental forests. Establishment of an experimental forest will greatly increase opportunities for Hawaiian scientists as well as students of all ages to conduct projects on lands dedicated for that purpose. The HETF is the 80th experimental forest of the Forest Service's experimental forest network.
The Hawaii Experimental Tropical Forest was officially established on March 23, 2007.