ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hilo musician and hunter Keoki Kahumoku held a sign Tuesday protesting state and federal plans to release an insect to weaken strawberry guava plants.
Emotions run high over eradication plan
HILO » Strawberry guava is an invasive, non-native plant destroying native Hawaiian forests and should be limited by releasing a Brazilian insect that weakens the plant.
Or, strawberry guava is an important food source in contemporary Hawaiian culture and should not be destroyed.
Those competing views will go head to head at a public informational meeting tonight being moderated by state Rep. Clifton Tsuji. The meeting will be at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, from 6 to 8 p.m. in UCB 127.
Tsuji says the purpose is to inform the public about plans to release a bug, related to aphids, with the scientific name Tectococcus.
There is no plan to take public testimony since that was done previously, Tsuji said.
Some residents are expected to provide heated comment.
Hilo musician Keoki Kahumoku said there might never have been so much anger with the Tectococcus bug in more than a century of releasing biocontrol agents in Hawaii, starting with the unsuccessful release of mongooses to kill rats in 1883.
Performances by Kahumoku have appeared on four Grammy-winning albums with the work of other artists. Kahumoku is also a music teacher, certified organic farmer, fisherman and a hunter familiar with strawberry guava in forests.
Mongoose effort was not so clever
HILO » Hawaii's most famous case of failed biocontrol is the mongoose, supposedly brought to control rats.
Hilo musician and hunter Keoki Kahumoku said his family's information is that mongooses were actually brought to kill snakes hiding in hay used to feed farm animals on ocean crossings.
Kahumoku said he once found a rat and a mongoose cowering together, doing no harm to each other, in a large no-kill trap.
In a 2002 Star-Bulletin column, ocean and environmental writer Susan Scott said mongooses were believed to kill rats, snakes, lizards, crabs, toads, grubs, beetles and caterpillars when they were brought here in 1883.
Scott quoted a statement from Planters Monthly that year regarding mongooses. "It would be important to first learn more of the nature of the creature, for they may prove an evil."
This week Kahumoku carried a huge sign and asked passing rush-hour motorists to attend tonight's meeting.
"Once you let the strawberry guava bug go, you cannot take them back," he shouted to motorists waiting at red traffic signals. "It's your food. They're going to lie to us. Don't let them lie," he shouted.
A fair number of drivers shouted agreement.
The anger is broader than just the strawberry guava. Kahumoku sees the anti-guava effort as part of decades of attacks against food that, if not native, has become part of contemporary Hawaiian culture. That includes eradication of sheep, goats and pigs sought by hunters.
Michael Tulang, a former Hawaii County councilman and a retired federal agricultural agent, agrees.
Tulang is worried about the island feeding itself. "I have the feeling that sustainability is going to hit us square in the face," he said.
In the 1980s, Tulang was involved in releasing three bugs to control spiny gorse bushes after sheep and goats were eliminated from Mauna Kea.
That project produced no outcry. It also produced no success. Gorse is even worse now, Tulang said.
Tracy Johnson, the U.S. Forest Service scientist who studied Tectococcus, is used to the strict question of whether the bug can destroy other plants such as commercial yellow guava. After studies in Brazil and Hawaii since 1993, his answer is no.
Johnson is now attempting to contact Hawaiian elders regarding cultural issues.
But the facts are clear on strawberry guava. Tectococcus does not kill the plants, but it knocks out 90 percent of their fruit production, Johnson said.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
An article on page A5 Thursday incorrectly stated that Hilo musician Keoki Kahumoku is a four-time Grammy winner. Performances by Kahumoku have appeared on four Grammy-winning albums with the work of other artists in each case. With such compilation albums, the Grammy is given to the producer and not to individual artists.