Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Haleakala one
of most endangered national parks, say

Planned international flights
pose a threat, the group says

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- A leading parks conservation group today named Haleakala National Park on Maui one of the 10 most endangered national parks in the country.

The dubious honor stems from the proposed expansion of Maui's Kahului Airport to allow international flights.

Conservationists fear allowing foreign flights without instituting tough inspection and quarantine procedures will open the door for non- native plants, insects and viruses to spread to Maui, where they will destroy Haleakala's fragile ecosystem.

"It's a horrendous threat, not only to the park but to the entire island of Maui," said Brian Huse of the National Parks and Conservation Association, which picked the 10 most-endangered parks.

"Haleakala has within its boundaries the most pristine tropical rainforest ecosystem in America," he said. "The park already is beset by any number of alien species, and if they expand that airport, it will be a lot worse."

The expansion of Kahului Airport has been debated for years. For just as long, it has been opposed by conservationists who want tough inspections to keep out unwanted, exotic plants and animals.

The biggest threats would come from flights from Southeast Asia or Guam, which have similar climates and could unknowingly import the most destructive pests, Huse said.

Public enemy No. 1 would be the brown tree snake that has devastated Guam, wiping out many species of birds. But other snakes, insects and plants also could prove destructive by taking over the habitats of native species or bringing exotic diseases.

Debate over the airport expansion has been carried out in public hearings and in the courts. It prompted the Interior Department to step in and help draft a memorandum of understanding calling for an effective quarantine and inspection system of incoming flights.

But Don Reeser, Haleakala's superintendent, said progress on coming up with an effective inspection system "is moving at a snail's pace, whereas expansion of the airport is moving full bore. I'm not too optimistic a good system will be included in the plan."

A zoning hearing on the airport, he noted, will be held later this week.

"The main problem with this park has always been alien species," he added. "And once there are more direct flights into Maui and flights from foreign countries, those species will have a more direct way of getting in here."

The NPCA's Huse said Haleakala is one of several national parks being threatened, in one way or another, by nearby airport expansions.

Expanding airports, meanwhile, are just one of the threats facing national parks, which are also struggling to overcome air pollution, crumbling sewage systems.

The NPCA's 10 most endangered parks also include: Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico; Denali National Park in Alaska; Big Cypress National Preserve, and Everglades and Biscayne national parks in Florida; Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania; Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona; Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee; Mojave National Preserve in California; Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota; and Yellowstone National Park.

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