Reptiles and invasive species problems creep up on capitol

KHON Jan 12, 2012

Reptiles and other invasive species invaded the capitol today as part of a legislative briefing on environmental concerns.Despite the challenges of workforce and budget cutbacks, alien species control agencies are still making progress, but are pointing out how much more needs to be done.They're not your usual warm-blooded family pets. These illegal creatures, many turned into the state under amnesty, are making their cold-blooded way into Hawaii more and more."That's quite common in the pet trade, so the concern is that people can buy these online and they can package in unmarked boxes," said Glenn Sakamoto from the Agriculture Quarantine Branch.Other invasive species such as fire ants, or even coqui frogs, are at risk of hitchhiking from such things as inter island cargo."Did you know, after 4:30 p.m. there's no inspector on Oahu, so someone can just walk out the door without an inspection 44 at night because we don't have any inspections. The cargo has to be left there, and if it's not refrigerated, (it) has to be inspected the next morning. It's about food safety, food security and invasive species that could just be hitchhiking on from there." And the extreme: a skull from a 6-foot alligator found dead in Maunawili in 1991."You gotta be kidding me. Who in their right mind would be bringing alligators into Hawaii? I mean it just doesn't make any sense," said Senator Mike Gabbard (D), on the Environment Committee.These threats and more were part of a legislative briefing that went over the drastic cutback in resources, like how 2010 had half the staff of agriculture inspectors, and half the interceptions, as 2009."They do critical work. Here we live in paradise and these folks are commissioned with protecting the environment and they need money," said Gabbard.It wasn't all about snakes and lizards, though. Plant control experts also spoke of the importance of staying diligent against invasive elements."There are trees, there are shrubs and there is ground cover. All of this complexity adds up to being very efficient at capturing water both in the form of rain and mist that feeds our aquifers," said Lara Reynolds of the Oahu Invasive Species Committee."It's going to take some creativity here to figure out how we can help them do their jobs," said Gabbard.Besides making the case for more money and staff, the agencies also suggested more rapid rule-making could help deter new threats as they pop up.