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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”.

Board of Directors

Paul Nakayama, Ph.D

President and Director

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. Most recently, 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. Today Paul spends his days serving as a Trustee on the boards for The Akaka Foundation and Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy.

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.

Hannah Kihalani Springer

Vice President and Director

President, Board of Directors for the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i Homestead in Kukui‘ohiwai at Ka‘ūpūlehu, North Kona

Robert McKendry

Corporate Secretary and Treasurer

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.

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.

Ernie Clayton


Ernie was Born in Torrance, California where he attended California State University, Fullerton. He graduated in 1968 with a degree in Chemistry and went to work at the Garrett Corporation as an analytical chemist. In 1972, with the passage of the Occupation Safety and Health Act, he moved into the new field of Industrial Safety and developed the Garrett Corporation’s Safety Program.

In 1980 Ernie moved to Seattle, Washington and began his 23 year career with the Boeing Company, first as the Safety Manager for Boeing Engineering and Construction Company, and next for Boeing Helicopter Division. He then became the Safety and Environmental Services Manager for the 747, 767 and 777 Division; Ernie moved on to become the Manager of Safety, Health and Environmental Affairs for the Commercial Airplane Company Division. Ernie proudly spent the last 6 years of his career as the Director of Industrial Safety, Environmental Programs and Health Services for The Boeing Company.

Ernie retired from Boeing in 2003, and now makes his home in Kailua Kona with his wife Paulette.

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.


Rebekah Dickens Ohara

Chief Executive Officer

Rebekah received her B.A. in Anthropology in 2009, serving as President of Humboldt State University chapter of the Northwest Primate Conservation Society and receiving the 2009 Alfred Russel Wallace Outstanding Biological Anthropology Award. 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. She coordinated the Primate Conservation Speakers Series, and the Activism and Conservation Seminar at HSU, and volunteered with Semillas Del Futuro, teaching conservation and tree-planting in Costa Rica.

In 2013 Rebekah 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. She is a PhD Candidate at Purdue University in the Forestry and Natural Resources Program, focusing on the pathways and barriers to community-based forest management in Hawai‘i. It is her mission to be part of a grassroots conservation movement that encourages and empowers local citizenry through education and the creation of sustainable livelihood options in Hawaiʻi.

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

Contact Us

60 Nowelo St.
Hilo Hi, 96720

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