Control of threatening species gets short shrift in Hawaii
Hawaii's native plants and animals struggle while intruding pests increase their presence.
WHILE conservationists strive steadily to boost the thin ranks of some of Hawaii's native bird and plant populations, the struggle to prevent destructive and potentially damaging species from cutting in grows weaker as a global economy ferries in more imports and curbs remain inadequate.
Though researchers and experts sound alarms about various insects, animals and plants, more often than not, the intruding pests have already established a presence in the islands, requiring the state and businesses to spend millions of dollars to stop their spread.
At the same time, millions also are needed to keep alive the plants and animals that balance and identify the ecology of the islands and, in part, feed the state's tourism economy.
Yet year after year, deficient funding, ineffective inspection programs and a lack of will and vision virtually invite non-native species to Hawaii's shores when an ounce of prevention would be worth a pound of cure.
Lawsuits over real estate sales arise when buyers discover that what they thought were peaceful pieces of paradise have been infested by screeching coqui frogs that also have resorts, hotels and governments spending money to eradicate the annoying critters.
The state also is laying out tax money to find a way to save the wiliwili from a wasp that has decimated the native trees, requiring introduction of another non-native wasp that experts are gambling will control the first without causing harm.
While the noisy coqui has received much attention, researchers earlier this week cautioned that tiny fire ants, whose stinging bites can blind pets and kill birds, already are a bigger threat, and they're nearly impossible to eradicate. The only option left is to control the ants from swarming beyond Kauai and Hawaii island. Containment needs to begin now, but funding for the lone project focused on the ant will run out in December. Even though farmers and others are calling for action, state leaders rarely take such warnings seriously and if they do, act only when financial interests, like tourists complaining about ant bites, are directly affected.
Meanwhile, there have been positive developments. Small flocks of akepas and creepers, two of Hawaii's endangered birds, have or will join five other native bird species on a kipuka in the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The tiny, 15-acre habitat, which is protected from wild pigs and eventually will be purged of feral cats and mongooses, is planned as a public viewing area. As heartening as the natural forest exhibit will be, it also is a sad witness to the scores of other native species and wider habitats that have vanished.