"HONOLULU — A newly discovered fungus is killing a tree that's critical to Hawaii's water supply, endangered native birds and Hawaiian cultural traditions like hula.
The disease called rapid ohia death has hit hundreds of thousands of ohia lehua trees on the Big Island. As of last year, it was found to have affected 50 percent of the ohia trees across 6,000 acres of forest, but it's believed to have spread further since then. To date, it's been found primarily in Puna but also in Kona and Kau. It hasn't been seen anywhere else in the world.
Robert Hauff, the forest health coordinator at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the state is planning aerial surveys next month to learn how many acres are affected by the fungus. A world expert in similar diseases is also expected to visit the islands to advise the state on how to control the outbreak."
Audrey McAvoy reports for the Associated Press December 23, 2015.