DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Agricultural officials inspecting more than 3,100 Oregon-grown Christmas trees aboard a Boeing 747 aircraft yesterday found insects amid the trees. The inspectors included Dennis Nagatani, left, Elliot Nakashima, Edward O'Callaghan, Kanani Lai, scooping up an insect into a collection bottle, and Arseno Esteban. The planeload was returned to the mainland.
Wasp discoveries sting sales
Two schools were planning to sell the trees to raise funds
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They arrived late Thursday, but the journey wasn't quite over for a planeload of Christmas trees from Portland, Ore., which were intended for Oahu school and church fundraisers.
The 747 jet loaded with 3,150 Douglas, noble and grand firs was sent back to the mainland yesterday after the discovery of several types of wasp, two of which are not found in Hawaii.
The Department of Agriculture said it did not have the proper decontamination facilities for the first large-scale air delivery of Christmas trees to the state, so the plane was rerouted to Anchorage, Alaska.
Five churches and schools and one wholesaler were affected. One of the schools, which planned to sell the trees as a part of a fundraising project, said it stands to lose $10,000.
McMinnville, Ore.-based cargo shipper Evergreen International Aviation Inc., which handled the shipment, said it will lose $1 million from the operation.
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A planeload of Christmas trees intended for sale by isle fundraisers and wholesalers was sent back to the mainland yesterday after the discovery of several types of wasp, two of which are not found in Hawaii.
The Boeing 747, which arrived in Honolulu Thursday night, contained 3,150 Douglas, noble and grand firs, marking the first large-scale air delivery of Christmas trees to the state. Five churches and schools and one wholesaler were affected.
The plane was diverted to Anchorage, Alaska, late yesterday afternoon, said David Rath, president of Evergreen Agricultural Enterprises, a division of McMinnville, Ore.-based cargo shipper Evergreen International Aviation Inc., which handled the shipment.
"We've shipped to Japan, Puerto Rico, Mexico and China and haven't had anything like this happen before," Rath said. "We asked if we could pay a charge or incinerate them there or fumigate them, but they are not allowing any of that. They wouldn't allow us to offload them at all."
Evergreen stands to lose $1 million from the diversion because the flight had to be rerouted, delaying a scheduled textile shipment out of Asia and incurring additional fuel costs. Rath said the company hopes to sell the trees at cost or give them away in Alaska.
Kailua Christian Academy and Waialua High and Intermediate School had arranged to purchase the largest portion of the trees, said Hollie Spivey, Evergreen's Christmas tree sales manager. Evergreen's aviation and ground logistics unit planned to sell 1,000 trees. Spivey declined to name the other affected buyers. Any money paid to Evergreen for the fundraisers will be refunded, Rath said.
Ben Abraham, an administrator at Kailua Christian Academy, said he purchased 1,300 trees for what was meant to be the school's only fundraiser of the year.
"This was a major fundraiser for our school, and we stand to lose $10,000," he said.
The school planned to make $40 to $60 a tree, he said, with a 6- to 7-foot Douglas fir selling for $75. He had paid to advertise the fundraiser and for a refrigerated truck to pick the trees up from the airport.
"Most were pre-sold," he said. "We have to refund the funds."
The trees were cut Wednesday at Evergreen's 800-acre tree farm and shipped out of Portland International Airport in Oregon on Thursday.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
These were some of the insects found yesterday during an inspection of Christmas trees.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture sent a team of 10 inspectors to the plane yesterday morning, where they found three yellow-jacket wasps, including two live queens, along with two other genera of wasps, one tentatively identified as a dolichovespula, which was found alive, and a vespa, which is a type of hornet. Both are not currently found in Hawaii, said Domingo Cravalho Jr., chief of the state Department of Agriculture's Inspection and Compliance Section, which inspects all imported trees.
"The unusual thing about the entire air shipment was that many of the insects that were found in the air shipment were not found in maritime inspections of Christmas trees," he said.
Evergreen secured a certificate from the Oregon Department of Agriculture clearing the trees, meaning that they were all shaken to remove insects, Cravalho said. "Evidently it wasn't shaken enough, or it was staged in an area where it could get re-infested," he said.
Flies, parasitic wasps and other pests also were found, as well as dirt and rocks that could carry microorganisms, Cravalho said. No trees were removed from the plane during the inspection, he said.
The department was unable to clean the plane because the state's cleaning and inspection facilities are made for surface containers, he said, not large aircraft.
"It's best that the shipment move out of Hawaii and go to another destination that accepts these types of pests," he said. "We're at a greater risk because of the fact that we have warmer weather and some of these species might take hold here."
The majority of the state's 150,000 imported Christmas trees this year are shipped by sea, with the last of four Matson Navigation Co. shipments expected to arrive today.
A Boeing 747-200 can hold up to 4,500 trees, said Spivey, but some buyers backed out after wasps were found on three surface containers last month. Spivey said Evergreen plans to fly Christmas trees to Hawaii next year in containers so they can be removed and dealt with separately.
"We had such a tremendous response," she said, adding that more than a dozen cars were lined up this morning at Evergreen's airport site waiting for a tree. "Phones were ringing off the hook -- that's encouraging."
Leapin' lizards! For holidays in Hawaii, no thanks
Bianca Matthews-Inofinada and her children had just arrived at their Kalihi home with the family's Christmas tree in the back of their truck Wednesday night and were about to unload it when they noticed a large lizard on it.
"We thought it was huge. It wasn't like a normal lizard," she said.
When they tried to catch it, the lizard disappeared into the tree's branches still wrapped in netting. So they unloaded the tree, cut the netting and shook it.
One of Matthews-Inofinada's daughters spotted the lizard on the ground. They were able to capture it by forcing it into a container.
"At first we thought it was a salamander. The kids called it Sala," she said.
Whatever it was, Matthews-Inofinada knew it probably did not belong in Hawaii. So she called the state Department of Agriculture the next morning.
"The person did the right thing in containing it rather than just screaming and running off," said Domingo Cravalho Jr., chief of the agriculture Inspection and Compliance Section, "so they did really the right thing, containing it and calling the proper authorities."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
This foot-long southern alligator lizard was found in a Christmas tree Wednesday night by a Kalihi family.
State agriculture officials identified the creature as a southern alligator lizard. It is an adult of unknown sex and measures 12 inches long.
The lizard's normal habitat range is the western coast of North America, from Baja California to Washington. They are allowed in Hawaii only under permit for exhibition in zoos.
State agriculture officials have captured two other southern alligator lizards in recent years, one in a shipping container for nonagricultural cargo and one in a storage container on Kauai. They are not sure how the second one made it to Kauai.
Southern alligator lizards can grow to 16 inches long. They feed on insects, slugs, snails and young mice. They pose a direct threat to native birds because they can get into bird nests in trees and eat unattended eggs, Cravalho said.
Matthews-Inofinada said she bought her 5-foot Douglas fir at Don Quijote's Pearl City store.
Cravalho said he will send staff to the store to find out whether anyone has seen anything else from the container in which Matthews-Inofinada's Douglas fir arrived. He urged people who find or spot alien pests to call the Agriculture Department's hot line at 643-PEST.
He said the department will keep the lizard and use it for educational purposes until the Honolulu Zoo makes a shipment of excess or unwanted creatures to the mainland.