Guest Viewpoint – What is the prevention of invasive species worth to you?

What is the prevention of new invasive species in Hawai‘i worth to you? Although the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture is responsible for keeping new invasive species out of Hawai‘i, it does not have the infrastructure or funding necessary for the job. The department is working to fix these issues 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 state general funds (taxpayer dollars), and has not risen with the increase in incoming cargo. Moloka‘i residents are directly affected by this shortfall in the lack of a Department of Agriculture inspector based on Moloka‘i.

Last year, the department succeeded in gaining the ability to collect $1 per 20-foot sea cargo container, an important first step. This year the state 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 is also important for securing matching federal funds for a related biosecurity bill, Senate Bill 2850, which allows the Department of Agriculture to build joint federal-state inspection facilities at key ports of entry. A prototype joint inspection facility opened at Kahului Airport in February 2008, 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 is also 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 be to or through Hawai‘i, increasing the risk of brown treesnakes arriving. The Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture 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. Hawai‘i imported 7,300,000 tons of cargo in 2006. At a cost of 50 cents per 1,000 pounds,, HB 2843 would generate about $7 million per year for state’s biosecurity program, and the cost to each Hawai‘i resident would be about $5 per year — less than the cost of going to a movie.

Hawai‘i has already received the coqui frog, nettle caterpillar, wiliwili gall wasp, ohia rust, 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 Hawai‘i, call or write to Gov. Lingle to ask for her support of HB 2843.

The bill is available at www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2008/bills/HB2843_CD1_.htm

• Christy Martin is the public information officer for the statewide Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, a public-private partnership working to protect Hawai‘i from invasive species.

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