USDA PHOTO VIA AP / 2003
This brown tree snake was caught at Anderson Air Force Base on Guam. Eight brown tree snakes have been found alive or dead in Hawaii since the mid-1980s -- all in cargo from Guam.
Snake report sends hunters into the bush to avert crisis
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State hunters were searching last night for what might be a brown tree snake spotted this week at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.
Search crews have placed traps and canvassed the military base since Wednesday, when a resident reported seeing a 2-foot, greenish-brown snake at about 7:30 a.m.
The incident is renewing calls for steady federal funding to inspect military cargo coming to Hawaii from Guam, where the brown tree snake has decimated the bird population.
A new study estimates that Hawaii's economy could lose $2 billion if brown tree snakes were to become established in the islands.
ALEXANDRE DA SILVA
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State search teams were hunting last night for a snake spotted early Wednesday at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe that fits the description of the brown tree snake, which could ravage Hawaii's native plants and animals and hurt the state's economy.
A base resident reported seeing a 2-foot, greenish-brown snake at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Search crews have set up traps with mice and combed the area at night, but a snake has not been found, state Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi said yesterday afternoon.
"It seems like a credible sighting," Saneishi said, adding that searches would continue for at least two weeks. "She saw the tail end. The person didn't actually see the head."
The sighting coincided with an annual Brown Treesnake Working Group Technical Meeting in Waikiki this week that is being attended by experts from Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and the mainland.
Among topics discussed are military growth on Guam and the need for more inspection and regulations of cargo planes there to prevent the spread of brown tree snakes to Hawaii.
Eight brown tree snakes have been found alive or dead in Hawaii since the mid-1980s -- all in cargo from Guam, according to Hawaii's Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, which includes representatives from state and federal governments and other organizations.
The group is concerned that some $6 million in federal funding that includes money for inspection of military cargo leaving Guam continues to be based on congressional add-ons, or earmarks, to the budget.
For example, funds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services last year came only after the agency had lost five dog handlers who conducted snake checks, Martin said.
"It is not permanent funding; it's year-to-year funding," she said. "We need to make sure that this gets institutionalized. That's our first line of defense."
Her concern was echoed by Domingo Cravalho Jr., Plant Quarantine Inspection and Compliance Section chief for the state Agriculture Department, who said Wednesday's incident "underscores the importance of continued federal funding of snake inspection and interdiction programs in Guam, Hawaii and throughout the Pacific."
A new study has found that Hawaii could lose $2 billion in tourist travel if brown tree snakes were to become established in the state, an impact much greater than the $405 million previously estimated by a University of Hawaii study, Martin said.
"Basically, tourists would choose a different destination," Martin said about the study's findings, which the group expects to release soon.
The brown tree snake, a native of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, 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 also are 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.
People should not approach a snake if they encounter one, but the state encourages people to kill it as long as they do not put themselves at risk.
"If not, someone can keep an eye on it and then call us," Saneishi said.
The state's pest hot line is 643-PEST.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
» Brown tree snakes are native to Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Originally, this article incorrectly said the species also came from New Zealand.