ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Some 60 protesters wanting to save strawberry guava trees from a biocontrol insect gathered yesterday outside the Hilo office of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Critics renew protest of guava control plan
HILO » A squabble over insect control of strawberry guava trees broke out again yesterday with a meeting between scientists and about 40 insect opponents in a state office building while 60 more opponents demonstrated outside.
Lead scientist Tracy Johnson of the U.S. Forest Service said work is under way on a new environmental assessment after a public outcry forced the abandonment of an earlier environmental document.
The dispute is over what to do with strawberry guava, also known as waiawi, which has been increasingly destroying Hawaii forests since it was introduced from Brazil in 1825.
Johnson and others have been working since 1993 on releasing an aphidlike insect from Brazil called Tectococcus, which has been determined to eat only the three varieties of strawberry guavas in Hawaii but not related plants such as the common yellow guava and native ohia.
After participating in the meeting, insect opponent Kale Gumapac of the Kanaka Council said releasing the bug might eventually be acceptable after more studies but not now.
"They haven't done enough homework," he said.
The usual complaint about the insect attacking waiawi and reducing its fruit production by about 90 percent is that people use the fruit for food.
Gumapac pointed out that the fruit is also food for forest birds and animals, but no study has been done on the effect of cutting their food supply.
Scientists have said the effect probably would be good because it would force a reduction of pigs, which also damage the forest. Hunters do not like that because pigs are also a food source for people.
Out on the sidewalk, County Councilman Dominic Yagong said waiawi should be controlled by cutting and uprooting it.
Johnson said such an effort initially costs $250 an acre or up to $72.5 million over the potential 290,000-acre range of the plant, plus $35.7 million in maintenance costs every year after that. Releasing the insect and then monitoring it will cost only $50,000.
Yagong said a "listening meeting" will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 17 in the Honokaa Gymnasium so legislators and candidates can hear the public's objections.