State must fight invasive species now to minimize future costs, groups say

Honolulu Star Advertiser - January 12, 2013
Leila Fujimori

If the state fails to provide adequate funding for protection from invasive plant and animal species, it could cost the state more in the long run, state and private agency heads told the Senate Energy and Environment Committee on Friday.

"If we don't put adequate resources into it now, who's going to pay the consequences? It'll be our children and grandchildren," said Teya Penniman, manager of the Maui Invasive Species Committee, in a hearing at the state Capitol.

For example, if the brown tree snake — which has decimated Guam's bird population — becomes established in Hawaii, it could cost the state roughly $593 million to $2 billion a year, not to mention the loss in the native bird population, said Christy Martin, spokes¬woman for the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species.

And red fire ants common in some southern states and elsewhere in the Pacific could cause an estimated $211 million annually in agricultural losses and health costs. New threats like the little fire ant are already stinging people and pets in Hilo and could spread.

Watershed groups emphasized the need to protect native Hawaiian forests from invasive plants such as the strawberry guava, which can overtake native forests.
Carol Okada, program manager for the Department of Agriculture's Plant Quarantine Branch, said 40 imports, including flowers and produce, bring in 90 percent to 95 percent of the pests, and the department is working with local nurseries and farmers to grow substitutes.

William J. Aila Jr., chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and a co-chairman of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council, is asking the Legislature for $1 million to help fund all the invasive-species councils and committees.

"Prevention is much easier" than playing catch-up with the problem, he said.

The Agriculture and Health departments are asking for a bigger share of revenues from the crude oil tax, now 20 cents of the $1.05 tax on each barrel, for invasive-species work.

The Agriculture Department now receives 15 cents a barrel for agricultural development and food security and is asking for 42.5 cents, an increase to $10 million from $3 million annually, said Okada.

The money would help to restore its workforce for inspections, to increase irrigation and to continue programs like the apiary program.
The Health Department is also asking for an increase, to 10 cents from 5 cents, of the barrel tax to pay for more vector control to prevent diseases such as dengue fever.