top of page

Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i

Sarah Yamanaka

Apr 14, 2021

Founder Tyrone Montayre and his non-profit are doing good work





Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i


Apr 14

Written By Sarah Yamanaka

Founder Tyrone Montayre and his non-profit are doing good work

It’s a cloudy morning in Pia Valley located in East Honolulu.

A group of nearly 25-plus gather near the mouth of the valley to participate in Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i’s monthly “Group Therapy.” It may sound holistic, but it’s actually a four-hour volunteer opportunity that begins with guest speakers and an oli (Hawaiian chant) to set the day’s intent.

Tyrone Montayre, founder of the non-profit Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i, asks the group: “Can anyone explain what a sustainable Hawai‘i is?” The response: “One where we would grow our own food, where we wouldn’t have to rely on shipments and where we wouldn’t have to import other things.” 

“That’s exactly right,” says Montayre. “Being sustainable means to keep a certain level of existence without depleting the natural resources in our environment, and giving it time to replenish. So what we’re doing is restoring some of that balance, which is also what the logo means on our shirt — it’s kind of like a wind-up key on a toy, like how we’re trying to rewind some of our actions.”

The name, “Group Therapy,” was Montayre’s idea because for one thing, it’s catchy, and two, volunteers mention how therapeutic the activity really is. He adds, “It’s inspired by an electronic dance music group I listen to. They call their music, ‘group therapy.’”

Montayre, a full-time car mechanic and shop foreman, spends the majority of his evenings and weekends committed to his non-profit that began in 2019. One of its goals is working toward a sustainable Hawai‘i through conservation efforts and creating volunteer opportunities for the community. There’s a lot to be done considering he owns 330 acres of conservation land bounded by Hawai‘i Loa Ridge and Kūlepeamoa Ridge backed by the Ko‘olau Mountains.

View fullsize

View fullsize

Danielle Frohlich (above left) and Miles Thomas (right) speaking at the Group Therapy volunteer day. They are two of many people who were instrumental in getting Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i off the ground. Photos by Ryan Chang.

How and Why — 330 Acres?

Montayre never had any intention to own this much land, much less land that was designated “P1 Zoning,” which stands for Preservation 1, the highest rating given for land preservation. As such, it’s governed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

All he was looking for was a condo or rental property at the City & County of Honolulu tax auction. Everything went out of his price range and when the 330-acre parcel of land came up for bid, the only image on the tax map key was a green square. 

“I didn’t even think it would’ve been in my price range, and … well, what am I supposed to do with that?” he initially thought. Amid whispers of, “Oh, it’s landlocked,” or “It’s preservation land, you can’t do anything with it,” no one else bid. However, a 300-acre parcel in the upper reaches of Pia Valley was purchased by Patricia Godfrey at the same auction; she has since donated it to the state.

Montayre questioned whether he should purchase the lower portion of the valley, but the auction came to an end. With some regret, he thought to himself, ‘next year.’ However, just as quickly as the auction had ended, it restarted when the parcel was put back up for bid. It was a sign. He had to bid, and he got it.

“I kinda freaked out for a little bit,” says Montayre. “I thought what if somebody dies on the property or gets hurt. So the first thing I did was call every lawyer who would at least listen to my case regarding liability.” Their suggestion was to get the best insurance he could.

Laying the Groundwork

Going from vehicle mechanic to founding a non-profit was a huge learning curve for Montayre, but he says it’s been a rewarding one.

One of the first things he did was hike the valley. Already familiar with Hawaii Loa Ridge, he and Miles Thomas made their way up the ridge then down into Pia Valley. Montayre describes Thomas as a “dictionary” who knows anything and everything about plants. He should — he has a Bachelor of Science in botany and is working toward his masters degree. Thomas also works in Lyon Arboretum’s horticulture department and is a part-time field technician in the Plant Extinction Prevention Program.

“It was exciting and scary at the same time,” says Montayre. “I was worried about liability, but I was also like, “Yeah, I own a valley. I would have never thought I’d even own more than an acre, you know? I mean, 10,000-square-feet is a lot.”

In trying to get a roadmap as to “what now?” Montayre reached out to numerous agencies and organizations — the DLNR, Hawai‘i Land Trust, Livable Hawaii Kai Hui, the Ko‘olau Mountains Watershed Partnership (KMWP), fellow non-profits, as well as neighbors in the area, who were supportive of Montayre’s efforts.

KMWP was a valuable resource in Montayre’s search for information and the steps to take regarding overseeing the land. The organization brings together major public and private landowners, working across boundaries, to protect the Ko‘olau Mountains watershed by mitigating threats from invasive plants and animals.

Montayre attended a KMWP weed and restoration workshop that taught him different strategies and techniques for clearing out invasive plants and bringing in native ones. It included visits to worksites, as well as guest speakers such as professors who specialize in herbicides offering a database of which herbicides work on specific plants. Montayre’s ongoing hikes with Thomas also provided information to learn and absorb.

Montayre also volunteered with Livable Hawaii Kai Hui, a non-profit community organization serving East Honolulu, in order to understand how things were run and to learn about forest restoration. There he met JC Watson, manager of KMWP, and after discussing his situation with Watson, decided to take it upon himself to start the non-profit, which he describes as “a super long process.”

“I honestly didn’t want to start a whole new field of work,” he says, “but it just ended up that way. It was really daunting, and there were times when I wanted to give up, but at the end of the day, I knew it had to be me who did it. It’s hard for someone to put that much passion and time into it.”

A major task was creating a management plan. He enlisted the help of Thomas and Danielle Frohlich, both of whom were critical in categorizing native and invasive plants and where they were located in Pia Valley. Frohlich brought onboard her vast knowledge as an invasive species specialist with the SWCA Environmental Consultants, a nationwide environmental consulting firm.

While attending a meeting for the Maunalua Watershed Hui that falls under the East Honolulu Watershed Management Plan, Montayre met Doug Harper, executive director of Mālama Maunalua, a community-based non-profit dedicated to restoring the health of Maunalua Bay. Harper said he would gladly help Montayre put together a management plan at no cost.

Amid the challenges, every single person Montayre had encountered thus far had made a positive impact on him and enabled his non-profit to get off the ground. 

“I met Miles’ dad, then Miles. I met up with Livable Hawaii Kai Hui that led me to meet JC from KMWP. And then I met Doug, and Ryan Chang who’s with the O‘ahu Invasive Species Committee … and it just kept growing and growing. Everybody was there to support me, to help me move onto the next step. It just always felt like it was supposed to happen.”

Montayre had purchased the land on May 8, 2018, then founded Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i in April 2019 with the mission of forest restoration and creating educational opportunities for the community. By October 2020 it was all planned out, and Montayre had a solid team of people who specialized in all the right areas to help him along the way.

“My mom passed away seven days before I went to the auction,“ shares Montayre as he clears his throat. “I always thought it was kind of like a sign. Things happen for a reason. I had passed on the property the first time and regretted it, but then it was relisted. It was a gut feeling.” After purchasing the land, Montayre started the Wai Lan Preservation Group in honor of his mother whose middle name was Wai Lan.

It was meant to be.

Putting Knowledge into Practice

Montayre has set up three types of volunteer opportunities, but openings are limited at times because they’re so popular. Volunteers on “SuperChill Saturdays” bring in water to the restoration site and prep for the next out planting, which is the “Group Therapy” day. “Mauka Missions” days involve an intermediate level hike deeper into the valley up to Kūlepeamoa Ridge to see plants just starting to flower and seed, and to collect seeds as well.

On “Group Therapy” day, volunteers help carry in tools to the work site. It’s just a short trek from the end of Anolani Street onto a short paved road ending at the Board of Water Supply tank then along a short rocky trail. The day’s agenda is to cut then clear out invasive Guinea grass and trees with breaks between each of the processes. At the very end, everyone has the opportunity to plant a young native plant into holes that had been prepared on “Superchill” days; volunteers can even dedicate the plant to someone if they wish.

Everybody’s positive energy is up to the task of physical labor and Montayre makes it easy and fun as he coordinates group leaders and even hands out prizes. 

“I really appreciate people sacrificing their time on a weekend to come out and mālama ‘āina,” states Montayre. So he makes sure to include an educational component, some Hawaiian culture and the prizes. So far, participants have come back with positive comments saying the event is different from others they’ve experienced.

“There are little moments when I can actually stop and talk to people,” he says. “It’s nice to know that it brings them joy to come up and volunteer. Some of them actually go home and do yard work or start taking out invasive trees in their property!”

The lower portion of Pia Valley is a dry mesic area, and before restoration work even began, Montayre says there were three primary species already existing in the area — ‘A‘ali‘i, Alahe‘e and ‘Ūlei. All three are able to help combat invasive plants, so they’re being planted along with other native dry forest plants such as Wiliwili, Kou, Koa, ‘Ilima, Uhaloa and Kupukupu.

The primary invasive plants that volunteers remove are the Koa haole shrub and Guinea grass, as well as Christmas berry and Strawberry guava trees — everybody’s favorite find when out hiking.

There is a strategy, however, when removing invasive plants. Montayre says that they keep some of them and exploit them for what they’re good for, which is shade. Once the young native plants mature and the native shade trees grow big enough, they slowly clear out the invasive trees. It’s one of the techniques he adopted from KMWP.

Left to right: Volunteers carrying in tools to the worksite in Pia Valley; cutting the invasive Guinea grass; hauling the grass out of the area (photo by Ryan Chang); and a volunteer planting a young Carex plant, an endemic plant suited for lower Pia Valley’s dry mesic environment.

Down the Road

Montayre’s short-term goal is to create a community garden to engage the surrounding community and be able to give back to them. It’s also an opportunity for them to learn about sustainability and native plants.

A long-term goal will be an education center; creating an ongoing program with nearby schools such as Waldorf School, Kaiser, Kalani and possibly Punahou once schools open up.

Montayre knows the work that he and his organization are doing is important, especially with the island’s limited resources. The movement to mālama ‘āina, care for the land, is critical; so is being conscious about the environment on a global scale as climate change escalates.

“I do the work and I’m still learning,” he humbly says. “This (non-profit) is my tool that I can use to give back in the way that I can. My heart is full. I’m just happy that … I think my mom would be proud.

“One of my favorite things about the out planting events is actually the day before. I take a vacation day off from work. I pick up my dad in Makakilo and visit my mom and family’s graves at the Valley of the Temples before we go to Hui Kū Maoli Ola to pick up all the native plants. Then I take my dad, go holoholo, and we have lunch. My dad’s proud, so it’s good.”

Montayre and Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i’s journey has brought together people from all walks of life for one purpose — to restore, protect and preserve the island’s natural resources starting in Pia Valley. Their efforts have been worth the challenges as volunteers of all ages show up to participate in the weekend opportunities. It’s a good sign that the next generation will continue to care for the land long after we are gone.

Click the links below for more information on the organizations mentioned in the article, what they do and how you can join the effort:

• Protect & Preserve Hawai‘i:, @protectandpreservehawaii• Ko‘olau Mountains Watershed Partnership:, @kmwphawaii• Livable Hawaii Kai Hui:, @livablehawaiikaihui• Mālama Maunalua:, @malamamaunalua• Oahu Invasive Species Committee:, @oahuisc• Hui Kū Maoli Ola:, @hui_ku_maoli_ola

tyrone montayreprotect & preserve hawai‘ipia valleywatershed protectionrestorationsustainabilitycommunity

bottom of page