‘Scorched earth’ isn't best for isle pests
The Star-Bulletin's Aug. 22 editorial
about the varroa mite situation requires clarification about how eradication and control efforts are determined when invasive species are detected.
When varroa mites were found in a Manoa beekeeper's hives in April 2007, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture launched a rapid response on Oahu. However, it was quickly determined that the mites were already widely established and had been on Oahu for at least a year or more. Trying to eradicate the mite from Oahu would be unrealistic, given the fact all previous attempts to eradicate this pest elsewhere in the world have failed and that the mite was already widely established in wild bees on Oahu.
Because varroa mites were widespread on Oahu, the department focused on controlling mite populations on the island. The department established buffer zones around Oahu airports and harbors, searching for and destroying all bees and hives within a one-mile radius. The department also prohibited the movement of bees and beekeeping equipment from Oahu to the neighbor islands. These measures were ordered to minimize the chances of infected bees from Oahu traveling to other islands.
Of particular concern is the queen bee industry on Hawaii Island. Swarm traps were also set near ports of entry on neighbor islands as an early detection method. The earlier the pests are detected, the better the chances that an incipient population can be eradicated. It was one of these swarm traps that first detected varroa mites in Hilo.
Some people felt the state should have attempted eradication on Oahu, despite the exorbitant cost and the improbability of success. A beekeeper, who has not killed his own infested bee populations, proposed that National Guard troops be deployed to the mountains and valleys to kill feral bees - an unrealistic proposal and inefficient, improper use of our National Guard. To attempt to locate and kill every wild bee population on Oahu would be futile and would not guarantee eradication. In the meantime, agriculture on Oahu would be devastated without these pollinators. Such an effort also would hurt other native and beneficial insects.
Preventing the introduction of invasive species is always preferred over trying to eradicate a pest after it has arrived. However, the sheer number of passengers and cargo that arrive each day in Hawaii from the mainland makes 100 percent inspection of each person and every piece of cargo impractical. Thus, agricultural inspectors must focus on inspecting cargo and routes that have been determined to be high risk for importing invasive species, with the highest priority given to the detection of brown treesnakes, other snakes and red imported fire ants. (Arrivals from foreign countries are inspected by the U,S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.)
To give an idea of what the department is dealing with, consider the following statistics for fiscal year 2007:
Domestic arrival inspections
» Number of ships and aircraft arrivals from mainland, 38,600
» Number of passengers arrivals, 6.7 million
» Number of baggage, cargo and mail parcels monitored, 15 million-plus
» Number of maritime cargo, 5 million-plus
Brown tree snake interdiction program
» Number of commercial and military flights inspected, 1,337
Number of parcels inspected, 371,093
» Number of barge arrivals and departures, 602
» Number of aircraft arrivals and departures monitored, 2,785
» Number of baggage and cargo parcels monitored, 208,446
We try to do all of this with a plant quarantine inspector corps of 94 inspectors and technicians statewide. In the meantime, Plant Pest Control staff is currently working on control methods for erythrina gall wasp, nettle caterpillar, fireweed, coqui frogs and many other invasive pests.
We need everyone to keep their eyes out for unusual pests and plant diseases and report them to the state's toll-free hotline, 643-PEST (7378). We also need retailers, garden shops and plant nurseries to be careful about where they import plants from so they do not bring pests from infested areas. We need to support local farmers by purchasing local fruits and vegetables, so we can import less produce and fewer hitchhiking pests. The public can also help by advocating for more support of the inspection and invasive species control efforts.
As long as people and cargo are transported to Hawaii from all over the world, the threat of invasive species will continue. Our inspectors and plant pest control staff are working their best to protect Hawaii with the resources that they are provided. But it takes all of us to protect Hawaii.
Sandra Lee Kunimoto is chairwoman of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.