USDA PHOTO VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2003
Cuts to the federal budget have some Hawaii officials worried about a possible invasion in the isles by brown tree snakes. This snake was caught at Anderson Air Force Base on Guam.
Searches for tree snake at risk
A USDA program that screens military cargo for the viper could end
Agency officials in Guam and Hawaii are worried that military cargo leaving Guam could stop getting inspections for brown tree snakes by the end of May.
The loss in funding could be an inadvertent side effect of Congress's vow not to allow congressional earmarks, said Christy Martin, spokeswoman for Hawaii's Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye has asked for $2 million to fund inspections of military cargo leaving Guam, to ensure that the snakes do not get to Hawaii, Martin said.
But the elimination of congressional add-ons to the federal budget, such as Inouye's request, has left Guam and Hawaii government officials scrambling for an alternate funding source.
If funding is not available, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program will stop searching military cargo and crafts departing Guam on May 31, Martin said in a news release.
USDA-Wildlife Services inspections of commercial cargo and crafts for brown tree snakes at civilian ports are funded through the Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs and are expected to continue, Martin said.
But over the years, many of the brown tree snakes found in cargo outbound from Guam came from military shipments.
The Department of Defense, USDA and Inouye's office are working with Hawaii and Guam agencies to try to find a solution, Martin said.
The brown tree snake, a native of Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, was introduced to Guam in the late 1940s or early 1950s, with devastating consequences. The snakes wiped out nine of the 12 native forest birds and two of 11 native lizards on Guam, and have contributed to the decline of native fruit bats. The snakes are also responsible for an average of 200 power failures per year, and snakebites are the cause of approximately 1 in 1,200 emergency room visits on Guam, the CGAPS release said.
A University of Hawaii economic study estimates that if brown tree snakes were to become established in Hawaii, which has no native snakes, it could cost the economy $405 million annually.
Eight brown tree snakes have been found live or dead in Hawaii since the mid-1980s -- all in cargo from Guam.