State needs to push Washington on invasive species
The federal government's authority on cargo arriving in Hawaii leaves gaps in inspections that protect the isles from harmful organisms.
THE federal government's indifference to problems imported to Hawaii through military and other cargo streams demands that the state take aggressive measures to defend its economy and environment.
In addition to legislation for a biosecurity program and a federal-state inspection facility at Honolulu airport, Hawaii's governor and congressional delegation should push Washington to adopt standards that protect the islands from foreign species in the same ways it guards the continental United States.
Hawaii's status as an important military outpost for the nation and the toll that places on its land and oceans requires reciprocating concern. But funding for agriculture and other inspections have continually failed to meet the state's needs. Moreover, a shift in priorities since 9/11 appears to have put Hawaii more at risk from invasive species.
In hopes of holding back a rash of unwanted plants, reptiles, insects and microorganisms that have gained entry here in the last seven years, the state Legislature is contemplating a number of bills, one of which would put federal and local inspection agents under one roof to fill in gaps in communication and cooperation. State officials told the Star-Bulletin's Robert Shikina that federal agents often withhold information that could help local inspectors check susceptible imports. Sharing data would make sense and it is unlikely to compromise homeland security.
Of major concern is the military expansion in Guam -- home of a virulent population of brown tree snakes -- that would greatly increase cargo transport in the next two years. The Air Force conducts some snake inspections on its crafts voluntarily, but other military units don't, primarily because of deficient funding.
Though the snake issue has been mocked as a pork-barrel, earmarked appropriation, mostly notably by Arizona Sen. John McCain's "golden fleece" award, the reptile would be devastating to the islands' tourism economy and environment.
This lack of understanding about Hawaii's unique concerns extends to the federal government's myopic view of what it considers harmful organisms. From that perspective, if a bug is dangerous to Hawaii but not to the majority of the states, it doesn't make the federal watch list. As much as the government makes provisions for freezing weather on the continent, it must make stipulations for tropical, more permissive conditions in Hawaii and for its dissimilar circumstances.
In fact, Washington seldom regards the islands' special needs, often installing more blocks for products from Hawaii than it does from countries like Taiwan. As a result, insects like the nettle caterpillar and the erythrina gall wasp that has killed thousands of wiliwili trees slip in, forcing the state to spend millions for eradication when an ounce of prevention would have worked better.
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