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Who We Are

We are a group of people committed to vibrant forest communities in Hawai‘i and worldwide. Our Board of Directors contributes experience and expertise from a range of backgrounds and perspectives, providing leadership and passion for the stewardship of Hawaii’s earth, sky, and sea.

Our original Chairman Emeritus was Senator Daniel K. Akaka (1924-2018). We continue to be inspired by Senator Akaka’s life’s work and strive toward his vision of “Vibrant forest communities alive with the voices of Hawai‘i from one generation to the next”.

Administration and Leadership

Rebekah Dickens Ohara

Chief Executive Officer

In 2015 Rebekah became the first volunteer for the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests. Since that time she has helped to realize the vision of AFTF's founding Board of Directors through a focus on collaborative partnerships and a belief that when we come together, we are stronger. In 2020 Rebekah was promoted to CEO.

Much of her academic and organizing careers have focused on the interaction between environment and communities, with a particular focus on the importance of forests. Rebekah received her B.A. in Anthropology in 2009, serving as President of Humboldt State University (HSU) chapter of the Northwest Primate Conservation Society. For two semesters, Rebekah served as a Teacher’s Assistant and Field Guide for HSU’s Primate Field School at the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica, and during this time she organized multiple seminars and speaking series and conservation fundraising events. In 2013 Mrs. Ohara completed her M.A. in Social Science at HSU’s Environment and Community Program, focusing on the social and ecological considerations of tropical forest conservation with a case study in Ecuador. She completed an internship at the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve in Ecuador, focusing on agroforestry and permaculture. A member of Teach for America, Rebekah relocated to Pāhala, Hawai‘i in 2013, receiving her Teaching License from Chaminade University and teaching elementary school for two years. 

Rebekah is currently a PhD Candidate at Purdue University in the Forestry and Natural Resources Program, focusing on opportunities for community-based forest management in Hawai‘i. She hopes that this research, and her work at the Akaka Foundation serve to strengthen community-based resource management in the Hawaiian Islands.

Teaching Change

Rebecca Webster

Mālama ‘Āina Alaka’i Intern

In 2018 Rebecca received her B.S. in Environmental Science from Kennesaw State University and was awarded as the Outstanding Graduating Student in her program. During her time at KSU, Rebecca served as Birla Carbon Fellow and received the top poster award for her work with the endangered plant species, Cucscuta harperi. From 2015-2018 Rebecca instructed as a backpacking and white-water kayaking guide in Georgia, facilitating hands-on learning experiences for college students, centered around environmental education and outdoor recreation. In 2018 she took a position as a naturalist at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, with a focus on place-based learning and development of lesson plans shaped to meet educational standards, using local history and indigenous/ecological knowledge as a foundation.

Rebecca is currently a M.S. candidate at the University of Hawaii at Hilo in the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science program. Through her thesis research, she collaborates with middle and highschool citizen scientists to determine how ocean warming over the past decade has affected Hawaiian intertidal communities.

Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a Community-Based Subsistence Forest Area

Kuʻunahenani “Nahe” Keakealani

Lead For Hawaiʻi Fellow

Returning to her homelands of Puʻuwaʻawaʻa and Puʻuanahulu, Nahe is a fifth generation cowgirl from Napuʻu. Growing up in Waimea and Napuʻu she found her love for the forest at a young age. Getting the opportunity to ride alongside her papa (Sonny Keakealani), she learned the ridges and forests of Hualalai and Kohala and Mauna kea. She is currently a student at Hawaiʻi Community College where she is working toward her degree in Hawaiian Studies. She started by doing Kupu in 2018 where she and a team of HYCC members put in the first fence line for the Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a Community-Based Subsistence Forest Area (P-CBSFA). During the summer of 2021 she became a Lead For Hawaiʻi fellow with the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests, and her work has focused on helping Nehu Shaw in the field. Fence work and maintenance, plant prep and Planting also invasive species removal.

Ashley-Ann Kaleionehu “Nehu” Shaw

Full-time Community Forest Restoration Technician for Akaka Foundation

Born and raised on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Nehu’s experience and passion for Native Hawaiian forest restoration and watershed health is the driving force of her career in conservation. In 2005, Nehu started her conservation career working with Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC) with a focus on invasive species management. Throughout college she continued exploring the field of conservation by participating in several internships with various conservation organizations (PIPES, Kupu, USDA Forest Service, Forest Team at Hawai‘i Community College). Nehu received her Associate in Science degree in Liberal Arts from Hawai‘i Community College in 2015, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo in 2017, with a background in Botany and Environmental Science. From 2018-2021 she served as the Field Crew Leader for Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance. Nehu is honored to now be a part of the Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a Community Based Subsistence Forest Area (PCBSFA) and working alongside people who share her passion of ‘ike Hawai‘i and mālama ʻāina. As the Community Forest Restoration Technician, Nehu is able to apply her experience, knowledge, and skills in watershed management to support the restoration and reforestation efforts of the 75 acre PCBSFA enclosure on the Kohala side of Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a.

Hui Kia‘i Wai O Ka‘u Partnership

Sarah Knox

Project Coordinator for the USDA/USFS Noi‘i Kalaikaiaola Lab and the Hui Kia‘i Wai O Ka‘u Partnership

Sarah received her B.S. in Wildlife Ecology in 2003 from The University of Wisconsin, Madison. She moved to Hawai‘i in 2004 to work for USGS mist-netting forest birds to research avian diseases with the Biocomplexity project. Later, Sarah spent time working for Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Program where she participated in costal restoration, sea turtle nesting research, and public outreach. While working as the Wildlife Coordinator for Colorado State University Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, Sarah conducted monitoring and management of the threatened and endangered plant and animal species at PōhakuloaTraining Area. She has also contributed to several research projects with the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, including Koa research looking at wood quality, seed orchards, forest growth plots, and forest soil nutrient studies. 

Sarah is currently the Project Coordinator for the USDA/USFS Noiʻi Kalaikaiaola Lab and the Hui Kiaʻi Wai O Kaʻū partnership. This position allows her to combine her interests in wildlife ecology and remote sensing technology with her passion for community engagement in science and conservation in Hawai‘i.

Board of Directors

Hannah Kihalani Springer

President and Director

Hannah Kihalani Springer is a kamaʻāina of Kaʻūpūlehu, North Kona, where she and her family homestead at Kukuiʻohiwai. Her grandchildren are the seventh generation to call Kukuiʻohiwai home. From Kukuiʻohiwai they can look to the shorelines of Kūkiʻo and Kaʻūpūlehu, where Hannahʻs maternal and paternal ancestors lived, respectively, during the generation of Kamehamehaʻs rise and Captain Cookʻs arrival.

Hannah has held a variety of elected, appointed, and voluntary positions, always bringing kamaʻāina perspective and sensibility to her civic engagements. She presently serves of the Boards of the Kanu O Ka ʻĀina Learning ʻOhana, the Kona Historical Society, Kua ʻĀina Ulu ʻAuamo, and Mānā Christian ʻOhana. Hannah is actively engaged in community based resources management with the Kaʻūpūlehu Marine Life Advisory Committee, the Kai Kuleana Network, the Puʻuwaʻawaʻa Community Based Subsistence Forest Area, and the Puʻuwaʻawaʻa Advisory Committee. From mauka to makai, Hannahʻs joy is that the ʻāina be vibrant, alive with community, people with aloha for the ʻāina, and each other, from one generation to the next. The Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests supports this joy. Her prayer is that it long be so.

Daniel Kaniela Akaka, Jr.

Vice President and Director

Daniel “Kaniela” Kahikina Akaka, Jr. born in Honolulu, attended the Kamehameha Schools for 13 years. His educational career continued at the University of Hawai‘i where he received a bachelor’s degree in the Hawaiian Studies Program. For the past 33 years, Mr. Akaka has been employed at the Mauna Lani, on the Island of Hawai‘i. He is presently the Director of Cultural Affairs, where he educates the public about Hawaii’s history and culture. Mr. Akaka’s business career has also included Aloha Airlines, Hawaiian Holidays, Hawaiian Foliage & Landscaping, the Hawai‘i Maritime Center and the Director of Corporate Affairs for American Hawai‘i Cruises. In keeping with the Hawaiian culture, he has had the opportunity to be a crewmember of the Hokule‘a for three of its voyages.

In his work today, Mr. Akaka is involved in perpetuating the culture, the essence, and the Spirit of Hawai‘i. Mr. Akaka is an active Board Member of the Bishop Museum, the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame, the Pohakuloa Cultural Advisory Committee and the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests.

Michael J. Chun, Ph.D.

Vice President and Director

Dr. Michael J. Chun is a seasoned Native Hawaiian executive with diverse experience in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. From his appointment in 1988 until his retirement in 2012, Dr. Chun served as President of The Kamehameha Schools and Headmaster of its Kapalama Campus. Prior to his appointment as President, he taught at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa in the College of Engineering and School of Public Health from 1970 to 1981; served as Chief Engineer of the City and County of Honolulu from 1981 to 1985 and was Vice President of Park Engineering from 1985 to 1988.

Active in professional, community and business organizations, Dr. Chun serves on the boards of Hawai`i Preparatory Academy, Bishop Museum, Partners in Development Foundation, Hawai`i Medical Services Association, YMCA of Honolulu, Matson Navigation Company and the Bank of Hawai`i.

Through his service to these organizations and institutions, Dr. Chun has received several awards, including the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Hawai`i and the “Distinguished Service Award from the University of Kansas”. Dr. Chun earned his bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and doctorate degree in Environmental Health Engineering from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. He is a 1961 graduate of the Kamehameha Schools for Boys.

Robert McKendry

Treasurer and Director

Controller - W.M. Keck Observatory

Robert McKendry currently serves at W.M. Keck Observatory as a Controller supporting financial, budgeting, and compliance requirements. Previously, Robert spent over 12 years in the independent educational environment, first at Parker School as their Business Manager and Treasurer, and most recently at Hawaii Preparatory Academy as their Chief Financial Officer and then Head of School. Prior to Parker School, Robert served as a licensed Certified Public Accountant with David Ramos, CPAs and Associates in Waimea. On the mainland, Robert held corporate positions in financial management, including Regional Controller and Management Accountant.

Robert grew up in Oregon and has a B.A. in Business Administration with dual concentrations in management and finance from the University of Oregon, and a B.A. in Accounting from Baker College. His wife, Fiona, is from Waimea, and they relocated to Hawaii from the San Francisco bay area in 2003 to raise their family.

Michele Lee

Corporate Secretary and Director

Michele Lee is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and was the Vice President and Compensation and Benefits and Tax Council for Johnson & Johnson. Michele has expertise in Human Resources and has volunteered for the Crisis and Suicide Prevention Hotline, as a Special Advocate for children in foster care, and as a hospice volunteer.

Gerard Akaka, MD.


Dr. Akaka is the Vice President of Native Hawaiian Affairs and Clinical Support at The Queen’s Health Systems. He joined Queen’s in 2002 as Medical Director of The Queen’s Emma Clinics and is a Clinical Faculty member in the Department of Medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) at the University of Hawai‘i.

Prior to coming to The Queen’s Medical Center, Dr. Akaka served as an internist and Medical Director for the Wai‘anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Speech from the University of Hawai‘i and his M.D. at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). He completed his intern and residency programs at JABSOM. Dr. Akaka was named Queen’s “Outstanding Physician of the Year” in 2004. In Dr Akaka’s work with patients, physicians and other care providers, he strives to serve with "humble strength".

Daniel Kamitaki, Esq.


Graduate of USC Gould School of Law, Daniel Kamitaki serves as Executive Editor of the USC Interdisciplinary Law Journal. He practices law in Honolulu, Hawaii, acting as corporate counsel to Maui Varieties, Ltd. and Sol Focus, Inc.

Robert Swihart, Ph.D.


As professor and Department Head for Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, Rob works with a wonderful group of dedicated faculty, staff and students and visits with leaders in natural resources science and management in Indiana, nationally, and globally.

Rob is a quantitative ecologist whose research tends to focus on forest mammals and whose interests include fragmentation ecology, plant-herbivore interactions, disturbance ecology, restoration ecology, and conservation biology. He relies on a combination of experimental, comparative and modeling approaches to address the importance of spatial structure for behavioral and ecological processes affecting the conservation and management of vertebrates. Rob and his students work on questions that span levels of biological organization from individuals to communities and spatial scales ranging from microsites to continents. He enjoys collaborative research and has worked with mathematicians, statisticians, specialists in remote sensing, botanists, parasitologists, endocrinologists, chemists, hydrologists, economists, demographers, and social scientists.

Douglass F. Jacobs, Ph.D.


Dr. Douglass Jacobs is the Fred M. van Eck Professor of Forest Biology and Associate Head of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University. He is also the Co-Director of the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC), a regional collaborative research, development, and technology transfer effort for hardwood stewardship. He has specific responsibility for leading TropHTIRC, the tropical branch of the center that is focused on tree breeding and silviculture of Pacific Island forest trees. Dr. Jacobs' research focuses on nursery propagation and field establishment of forest trees for reforestation and restoration. Since 2010, he has served as Editor in Chief of New Forests, an international journal on the biology, biotechnology, and management of afforestation and reforestation. Dr. Jacobs has conducted a wide variety of research project in Hawai‘i dealing with Acacia koa and other native Hawai‘i trees for the past decade. He is currently stationed in Hilo, Hawaii for a 1-year research sabbatical working with the University of Hawaii, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and USDA Forest Service, Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry. During this period, he will be supervising TropHTIRC staff and projects, networking with collaborators across Hawai‘i, and working with the TropHTIRC advisory committee to develop a new 5-year strategic plan. In the past, Dr. Jacobs has served on the Board of Directors of four forestry-related foundations.

In Memoriam

Senator Daniel K. Akaka


Chairman Emeritus

Senator Akaka was born in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, on September 11, 1924. He attended public grade school in Hawai‘i and graduated from the Kamehameha School for Boys (high school) in 1942. Like many of his generation, Senator Akaka's youth was interrupted by World War II. Upon graduation from high school, he served as a civilian worker in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1943 to 1945, and served in the U.S. Army from 1945 to 1947. After the war, Senator Akaka enrolled at the University of Hawai‘i. He received the following from the University of Hawai‘i: Bachelor of Education degree 1952, professional certificate in secondary education 1953, professional certificate in school administration 1961, Master of Education 1966, Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters 2012.

He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976 and served from January 3, 1976 to May 16, 1990 – thirteen years. He was appointed to the U.S. Senate on May 16, 1990 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga, subsequently winning a special election to the office in November 1990. He was reelected in 1994, 2000 and 2006, and served in the U.S. Senate until January 3, 2013. Senator Akaka was the first U.S. Senator of Native Hawaiian ancestry and the only Chinese American member of the U.S. Senate.

In the U.S. Senate, Senator Akaka served on the Armed Services; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Veterans' Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; Indian Affairs; and Ethics Committees. He was Vice Chair of the Democratic Steering Committee. He also served as Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee; Indian Affairs Committee; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia; Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness; and Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks.

He has had numerous achievements with legislation pertaining to Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Indian Affairs, consumer and protection provisions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Excellence in Economic Education Act (Triple-E Act – financial literacy), Credit Card Minimum Payment Warning Act, Hawai‘i Tropical Forest Recovery Act, Telework Enhancement Act of 2010,Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, and many more.

Senator Akaka was raised in a deeply religious family and is a member of the historic Kawaiaha`o Church where he served as choir director for 17 years. He and his wife Millie are the parents of one daughter and four sons, who have blessed them with 15 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

Charles Michler, Ph.D.


Director and Co-Chair Science and Natural Resource Advisory Committee

A Founding Director of the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests, Dr. Charles Michler was instrumental in establishing the Tropical Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center in Hawai'i, promoting partnerships especially for Acacia Koa advancements in reforestation efforts.

Charles received his M.S., and Ph.D. from Ohio State University, focusing on Horticulture, Physiology, and Biochemistry. Michler authored numerous book chapters, articles, and publications, and received several awards for excellence in his field, including the North Central Forest Experiment Station Patent Award. Michler was an asset to the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station and Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center of Purdue University.

Charles is remembered and respected for his extraordinary support with Hawaii's natural and cultural resources organizations and professionals.

Paul Nakayama, Ph.D



Dr. Paul Nakayama was born and raised on Oahu, in the Kaka‘ako District. He attended Iolani School from grade eight forward and went on to receive his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, and an M.S. in Math and Engineering Sciences from Michigan State University. He obtained his Ph.D. in Engineering Sciences from Purdue University.

Dr. Nakayama’s 40 years of experience as a physical scientist and technical manager in the nuclear power industry and nuclear weapons complex includes analysis of weapons systems performance and weapons safety issues, long-term involvement in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) reactor safety methodology for degraded core accidents, and service as an NRC Expert Witness at hearings on the Three Mile Island accident. During this career he founded, and served as President/Chief Operating Officer or in high level management positions, at two companies — Jason Associates Corporation (Jason) and JAYCOR. Dr. Nakayama was engaged in formulating dose reconstruction and remediation strategies for contaminated atolls in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and he was the Principal Corporate Officer, responsible for overall management and work performance, for Jason’s work on the Kaho‘olawe Island Model Clearance Project. 

The Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests is a 501C3 incorporated in the state of Hawai‘i.

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60 Nowelo St.
Hilo Hi, 96720

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