U.S. cuts snake
State wildlife experts warn that
reduced inspections on Guam
raise the danger here
WAILUKU » Government wildlife officials warn that the lack of federal money to contain the brown tree snake on Guam is putting Hawaii and other locations worldwide in environmental danger.
State officials said last week that due to budget reductions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Service has had to cut four full-time field positions and anticipates eliminating an additional eight positions on Guam on or immediately after Oct. 1.
"If the level of support for brown tree snake interdiction is not increased, the state of Hawaii is at significant risk from the accidental introduction of brown tree snakes," said Mindy Wilkinson, invasive species coordinator for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The brown tree snake is responsible for the extinction of nine of 13 native forest bird species on Guam and causes nearly 200 power failures a year on the western Pacific island, according to the state.
Of 6,000 brown trees snakes removed annually from Guam's five military and civilian ports of exit, nearly two-thirds are taken from cargo facilities operated by the Air Force and the Navy, the state said.
A University of Hawaii economic study recently estimated that the introduction of the brown tree snake to Hawaii could cause between $28.5 million and $405.1 million in losses annually, the state said.
Federal officials said stopping the brown tree snake at the ports of exit is the key to controlling its spread.
"Eliminating the chance that snakes are accidentally transported off of Guam is the only cost-effective solution to prevent the decimation of avifauna on other Pacific islands," said Earl Campbell, Pacific island invasive species coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Christy Martin, a spokeswoman for the statewide Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, said the U.S. Interior and Defense departments provide about $1.8 million annually to inspect airplanes and boats on Guam.
Martin said funding for the searches at Andersen Air Force Base and Apra Harbor on Guam has not increased in the last 11 years, despite a tremendous increase in military traffic due to the Iraq War.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Inspection and Wildlife Service employs 25 full-time snake trappers and nine canine handlers to minimize the chance of brown tree snakes being accidentally transported off Guam.
She said the snake searches on Guam, begun in the mid-1990s, have been primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Interior and that the U.S. Department of Defense needs to bear a greater burden.
Martin said the Defense Department needs to provide $300,000 to maintain just the eight positions scheduled to be cut this year. She said a total of $2.8 million is needed to do a complete job of searching. "Already, they're not searching 100 percent," Martin said. "They've had to cut back in recent years."
State officials have enlisted the aide of brown tree snake experts from Guam and the Northern Marianas to locate a snake last seen on Aug. 10 by two Maui residents in Hamoa in East Maui.
Officials said the snake, described as about 3 feet long, might be a brown tree snake, but it was too soon to arrive at any conclusions. No signs of the snake have been found, state officials said.
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Flights from Guam bring
A total of eight brown tree snakes have been found live or dead in Hawaii since the mid-1980s, according to the state Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species. All snakes were associated with the movement of civilian and military vehicles or cargo from Guam.
» April 1981: A juvenile brown tree snake is found in the customs area of Honolulu Airport, having hitched its way presumably from Guam.
» July 1981: A second snake is discovered near an aircraft hangar at Barbers Point Naval Air Station.
» May 5, 1986: A brown tree snake is found on Hickam Air Force Base after an early-morning arrival from Guam.
» October 1989: Another brown tree snake is found at Hickam Air Force Base.
» Sept. 3, 1991: A brown tree snake is found stunned near the tire of a parked plane on the Hickam Air Force Base runway. Just eight hours later, another snake is found dead on the taxiway.
» December 1994: A live brown tree snake is found on Oahu in an Army warehouse containing supplies recently shipped from Guam.
» July 1997: Military policemen report a brown snake on the Hawaii National Guard alert pad at Hickam Air Force Base, within 200 yards of the site where aircraft arriving from Guam are positioned upon landing. The snake eludes capture and is not confirmed as a brown tree snake.
» August 1998: A brown tree snake is found dead in the wheel well of a Continental Air Micronesia airliner on Oahu. The jet had taken two recent round-trip flights to Guam.