IGS Internships

Environmental Conservation



In the cloud forests of Kauai join a non-profit organization in their effort to restore native Hawaiian vegetation. Learn firsthand about the plight faced by native species as a result of deforestation and unsustainable land management practices. Amazing Birds Wildlife protected within this refuge include: akiapola'au, Hawaiian akepa, Hawaiian creeper, Hawaiian hawk, ou, Hawaiian hoary bat, amakihi, Hawaiian thrush, elepaio, 'i'iwi, and apapane. All of these species and more are represented within one of Hawaii's largest forest reserves and last remaining stands of koa and ohi'a trees. This reforestation project is as much an effort in watershed management as it is in botanical restoration. Your contribution will benefit Hawaii's endangered bird species as well. Eight out of the fourteen native birds residing in the forest are endangered, and seven species have already become extinct since Captain Cook's arrival in 1778. You will play a significant role in advancing the recovery of this beautiful landscape. According to a local guidebook, "the refuge is very beautiful, a diamond in the rough, and encompasses an incredible rainforest like few on the Big Island" (Bisignani, 1999).

Days are spent in the field, assisting in the office, or educating children groups. In addition, there is some work around camp that needs to be done, including maintenance and other odd jobs. Your reward is the knowledge that you are contributing to the long-term benefit of the rainforest.


This internship is located in a major state park rising above 5000 feet in elevation. It is a key area for the restoration of pre-montane and montane rainforest habitats, both of which are scarce on a global scale. You are about forty minutes from the nearest town and an hour and a half from Lihue--the capital city. It is possible to leave the project for a couple of days a week for hiking or travel to the city. However, we suggest that only applicants who enjoy remote locations and who do not feel attached to city living apply for this option.

Weather Conditions

While working in the Park, be prepared for some wet days and eternally wet grasses. Above 2,000 feet, you can expect cooler daytime temperatures and cold nights--temperatures can dip into the 40s up on the mountain. The following items are what your staff will pack (if you are very sensitive to cold weather, you should add more layers): one pair of long johns, a pair of lightweight, durable, waterproof rain pants, and a good rain jacket.

Job Description

You will join a team of seasoned backcountry workers 3-4 times per week in their trips into forest. Sensitive areas are targeted for restoration and you will employ a variety of means to ensure the survival of the native vegetation. Some mapping of areas may be undertaken. In addition, some spraying of exotics is likely included. Along the way you have an opportunity to learn by asking questions. Your hosts have logged thousands of hours in the backcountry working on this project and know the flora and fauna of this special place intimately. If you would like to spend an equal amount of time in camp as in the backcountry that can be arranged.

Minimum Length of Stay

4 Weeks


Comfortable government housing with full facilities, Hot water and your own bed are provided; the house is fully heated as well. Space is limited and you can expect to share accommodations, including kitchen facilities, with other staff members.

Previous Intern Experiences

Past interns have really enjoyed the staff members. Most walk away from the experience confident that they had made a difference. Some interns enjoyed the fact that the beauty of the rainforest location was completely opposite any beachside image that most people think of when they consider Hawaii.


To perform vegetation management activities in Kökee, Waimea Canyon, and Na Pali State Parks, involving primarily alien invasive plant (weed) removal but also sometimes including other management actions such as trail


  • Interest or training in botany and ecology
  • Commitment to preservation of native Hawaiian ecosystems
  • Comfortable and responsible in wilderness conditions, understand healthy camping
  • Willingness to perform hard physical work and use herbicides
  • No allergies, back problems, or other medical conditions
  • Team player, safe worker
  • Ability to accept instructions and put them into practice

Development opportunities

Can learn and gain experience in the taxonomy, function and management of Hawaiian flora and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the threats to these native forests and what can be done about them. Receive safety training and training in resource management methods. Spend time in one of Hawai’i’s finest State Parks; can also participate in Kökeÿe Museum projects and programs.

Support equipment provided

  • Safety gear such as gloves, safety glasses, compass and map
  • Machetes, clippers, machete belt & pouches as needed
  • Tally meter for counting weeds
  • Equipment for special projects such as weed wackers and their relevant safety equipment (ear protection, face shields/helmets, chainsaw chaps) for trail clearing.

Development opportunities

Strategies are
1) to remove the most disruptive weeds such as Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum), Strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) and Firetree (Myrica faya), from Special Ecological Areas (SEAs), that contain relatively intact ecosystems. The SEAs generally coincide with areas containing rare, threatened, and endangered native Hawaiian plant species; and 2) to target incipient weeds such as Privet (Ligustrum sinense) and Firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia).

The much-visited Koke’e, Waimea Canyon, and Na Pali Coast State Parks encompass 12,386 acres on northwest Kaua'i and are bordered by Ku’ia and Hono’o Na Pali Natural Areas Reserves as well as the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve. This ecologically rich area contains several native plant communities, including the rare Koa/’Ohi’a Montane Mesic Forest. The relatively pristine, high elevation bogs of the Alaka’i are truly unique in the world and highly deserve protection. 26 Threatened & Endangered species and an additional 31 rare plant taxa are found in scattered locations throughout the State Parks. Indeed, Hawai’i has become the “endangered species capital of the world” due to the many threats that are degrading native habitat and the resultant loss of species; one-third of the federally listed endangered and threatened species are Hawaiian, and three-fourths of the nation’s extinct plant and bird species once lived only on our islands.

Kaua’i has been severely impacted by two hurricanes since 1982, which have caused proliferation of nonnative invasive species. Biological invasion by alien weed species alters the population dynamics and community structure of native plant communities. "Native and endemic species are the true jewels of any ecosystem. The effects of non-native (alien) plants and animals constitute the greatest threat to native species and ecosystems in Hawai’i" (Biological Survey for Koke’e and Waimea Canyon State Parks, Kaua’i, The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i, 1996)

Alteration and loss of native habitat is a significant problem for all components of these ecosystems. US Fish & Wildlife Service Recovery Plans for Kaua'i endangered plants specify alien plants as a priority #1 threat to the survival of all but 2 of the 49 listed endangered species discussed in these recovery plans. Remnants of the once extensive native forests need protection.

The project uses weed control strategies and methods developed, tested and proven by decades of work by the National Park Service (NPS), The Nature Conservancy, the State of Hawai’i Department of Agriculture, and DLNR. Weed removal methods are manual and mechanical where feasible, but generally involve the judicious use of herbicides. Generally, alien trees are notched and a small amount of herbicide applied to the notch; the kahili ginger is cut and herbicide applied to the stump. These methods have been adapted for volunteer use and can serve as a model for forest management practices using volunteers.

Started in January, 1998. During 1998 and 1999, we have provided supervised service projects for over 700 local elementary school students representing 14 schools, over 90 students from 6 different colleges, and many other educational groups such as Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Club, and the Kailana Program for adjudicated adolescents. A group of 15 graduate students in Tropical Conservation from the University of Biodiversity of Sweden called their participation in our forest weeding program "very pedagogic!"

Staff hours in the field compared to volunteer hours shows 5,428 staff hours and 15,784 volunteer hours. The program has successfully recruited volunteers to the point that its funding has been multiplied three times, leveraged to provide three times the work on the ground that staff have accomplished.

Over the past three and a half years staff and volunteers have found new locations of several endangered species, and discovered many more relatively intact and botanically rich areas of forest that need protection now. We've weeded in the vicinity of 57 different listed Threatened and Endangered species and Species of Concern.

Just in the past year, we have participated in 19 public events centered around conservation work service projects. These were advertised in the local media and attendance added up to over 1,000 people. In two years, we have been featured in 18 different magazine and newspapers articles.