Bill proposes invasive species-sniffing dogs

HONOLULU — The state’s House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday recommended passage of House Bill 1943, which proposes the creation of an invasive species detection and prevention program using trained dogs to detect migratory invasive species.

“We need to make sure we have adequate controls from invasive species coming in to Kaua‘i,” Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-15th District, said.

The next stop for the bill is a hearing at the House Finance Committee.

The Hawai‘i dog detector program existed from 1989 to 2009, when it ended partly due to a 27 percent budget cut to the state Department of Agriculture. The program would again be within the Department of Agriculture under the new proposal.

State Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairperson William Aila Jr. sent written testimony supporting the intent of the bill, and suggested deferring to the state agriculture agency the best approach for implementing the proposed program.

“A previous canine inspection program at DOA was discontinued in recent years due to funding cuts, exposing the state to increased risk of introductions of environmentally damaging species such as the brown tree snake.” Aila said in his testimony. “DLNR recognizes the severe impacts that a brown tree snake introduction could have on the state’s wildlife, including native bird populations, as well as impacts to human health and safety.”

One of the major concerns related to invasive species that Hawai‘i authorities have is a potential infestation of brown tree snakes catching a ride on military airplanes coming from Guam.

In Guam, the large  brown tree snake population is believed is believed to be responsible for devastating the majority of the native bird population. Because of the lack of predators and abundance of prey, the brown tree snake established in Guam grows up to 6.6 feet, twice as long than it normally would, according to the bill co-introduced by five representatives.

O‘ahu Detection Dog Services sent written testimony in support of the bill, stating that the brown tree snake causes $4.5 million in annual power outage costs in Guam. Should the species be established in Hawai‘i, it is estimated it would cause in excess of $4 million in annual power outages costs, the company stated.

A similar bill, HB 1747, was deferred by the Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, meaning it will likely be shelved without further progressing. The bill was a shorter version of HB 1943 and  provided $180,552 funding for three dog detector inspectors within the state Department of Agriculture.

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