House OKs $104M
to stop viper

The brown tree snake on Guam
threatens Hawaii's ecosystem

WASHINGTON » The House yesterday authorized spending $104 million over the next five years to stamp out the brown tree snake, a voracious viper that has wreaked ecological havoc in Guam and is threatening Hawaii.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, calls the snakes "a growing threat to the biodiversity, economy and human health" in the region. It calls for new quarantine protocols in the next two years for travelers, baggage and cargo originating in Guam to prevent the spread of the species.

"It is time we address this issue head-on with the goal of eradication, not simply control," said co-sponsor Del. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, a nonvoting member of the House.

The mildly venomous snake was probably introduced to Guam in the 1940s or 1950s as a stowaway aboard a military cargo ship from the South Pacific. The species is native to Indonesia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Australia.

Some snakes have already hitched rides on aircraft and cargo ships to Hawaii, and could spread to the nearby Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands or even the mainland United States.

The brown tree snake kills by wrapping itself around its prey and injecting venom by chewing.

Free from natural predators, the snakes have nearly wiped out the native forest birds of Guam, many unique to the island. They also eat lizards, small mammals and eggs. The nocturnal snakes often invade homes, biting a number of sleeping residents each year. While the bites often require medical treatment, they have not been fatal.

The snakes have also caused more than 1,200 power outages in Guam since 1978 by crawling onto electrical lines at night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A committee drawn from federal and state agencies, headed by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, would fund and coordinate the control and eradication efforts through 2010.



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