Native species demand rigorous inspection of imports
Some shipments of Christmas trees from the mainland have been turned away because of pest infestation.
Species that menace Hawaii's unique plants and animals have long inhabited the islands, and blocking the arrival of new varieties that could further threaten them seems a near-impossible task.
Nonetheless, native flora and fauna need protection. Turning away insect-infested Christmas trees, which happened last week, is a negligible price to pay when compared to the cost of fighting pests that could harm the ecosystem for years to come, if not forever.
The state Department of Agriculture's heightened watch for stowaways on shipments of holiday trees appears to have captured a good number of parasitic wasps, including several queens that could have established alien colonies in the islands. The agency's actions, along with its increased communications with agriculture officials and tree growers on the mainland, are commendable.
While no one could predict the effects of new wasp infestations in Hawaii, the recent decimation of native wiliwili trees caused by another type of wasp illustrates the risk. Moreover, a new list of Hawaii's wild birds in danger of extinction due to environmental pressures amplifies the need to keep out alien species.
The list, compiled by Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy, for the first time included birds in Hawaii, even though a number of native birds have long been acknowledged as endangered with their populations in serious decline. The groups hope their combined WatchList identifying 39 island species of greatest concern will draw more attention to the plight of Hawaii birds and result in more money for conservation efforts.
As it happens, birds pull cash into the local economy. According to a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, the Kilauea Point refuge on Kauai generated $10.4 million in job income, spending and tax revenue last year as 986,088 people, mostly tourists, flocked to its 203 acres.
It is unfortunate that spaces like the refuge are few and far between and are sometimes the only areas where birds and other wildlife receive protection. Much of native birds' decline is attributed to the species that has the biggest impact, human beings. Destruction of habitat and inadvertent introduction of insects, such as mosquitoes that carry avian diseases, or ill-fated imports of unsuitable plants, such as miconia, that compete with those that feed native species are due to the human factor.
Government agencies charged with checking a flood of damaging intruders have their hands full. The massive amount of goods and products coming into the state forces them to rely on importing businesses to comply with regulations. For Christmas trees, that means pest removal, which in several shipments with wasps proved otherwise.