Fighting alien species is worthy investment
What is the prevention of new invasive species in Hawaii worth to you? Although the Hawaii Department of Agriculture is responsible for keeping new invasive species out of Hawaii, it doesn't have the infrastructure or funding necessary for the job. HDOA is working to fix these problems by implementing a new biosecurity program based on risk assessments on incoming goods and innovative inspection systems from around the world.
One stumbling block is that funding for inspection services comes from the state general fund (taxpayer dollars), and has not risen with the increase in incoming cargo. Molokai residents are directly affected by this shortfall in the lack of an HDOA inspector based there.
Last year, HDOA succeeded in gaining the ability to collect $1 per 20 feet of sea cargo container, an important first step. This year the Legislature passed House Bill 2843 to include all incoming air and sea cargo at a rate of 50 cents per 1,000 pounds for inspection services at ports of entry. Unfortunately, Gov. Linda Lingle has announced her intention to veto this bill, without plans to fix this ongoing inspection shortfall.
HB 2843 also is important for securing matching federal funds for a related biosecurity bill, Senate Bill 2850, which allows HDOA to build joint federal-state inspection facilities at key ports of entry. A prototype joint inspection facility opened at Kahului Airport in February, and 60 percent more pests were found the very next month, proving that inspections conducted in proper facilities result in more invasive species being found - before they become widespread pests.
Passage of HB 2843 also is crucial due to the military buildup on Guam. As the Marines move from Okinawa to Guam, cargo movement is expected to rise by 600 percent. Much of that will come to or through Hawaii, increasing the risk of brown tree snakes arriving. HDOA needs an enclosed inspection facility and an adequate number of inspectors and dog teams to search incoming cargo and crafts for snakes. HB 2843 must pass this year if we hope to be ready.
Opponents cite undue costs to residents as their main concern. Hawaii imported 7.3 million tons of cargo in 2006. At a cost of 50 cents per 1,000 pounds, HB 2843 would generate about $7 million a year for HDOA's biosecurity program, and the cost to each Hawaii resident would be about $5 a year - less than the price of a movie ticket.
Hawaii has already received the coqui frog, nettle caterpillar, wiliwili gall wasp, varroa bee mite and other pests that erode our environment and ability to produce our own food. Despite our ailing economy, pests will continue to arrive, and the costs of dealing with these must be considered in planning for a sustainable future. If you are one of the nearly 75 percent of residents who support invasive species prevention in Hawaii, call or write to Gov. Lingle to ask for her support of HB 2843.
Christy Martin is the public information officer for the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, a public-private partnership working to protect Hawaii from invasive species.