State Senate unveils package of biosecurity bills

Three bills dealing with invasive species and their relationship to food security and biosecurity are being considered by the state Senate.

Senate Bill 1140, introduced by Big Island Sen. Kai Kahele, if passed, would fund a wide range of initiatives related to invasive species and biosecurity during the next two fiscal years.

The measure, which was co-sponsored by fellow Big Island Sens. Russell Ruderman and Lorraine Inouye, on Friday passed out of the Water and Land Committee, which Kahele chairs. The vote was unanimous.

The bill now goes to Ways and Means, the Senate’s money committee.

“I think there’s a very strong chance it makes it through,” Kahele said. “I think the governor was clear in his message about how the state needs to take biosecurity a lot more seriously than it has in the past. And with cases of rapid ohia death showing up on other islands, with little fire ants showing up in Kaneohe, and the whole range of invasive species that are showing up in our communities, we’ve got to do something dramatically different than what we’ve done in the past.”

The legislation would provide up to $972,000 per year for the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to support research and interagency projects and $500,000 each year for rapid ohia death response.

The measure also would provide an unspecified amount to fund 10 full-time positions for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to respond to invasive species in Hawaii’s protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries.

Kahele said a particular concern that hasn’t received enough discussion is gorse, a perennial, thorny shrub native to Western Europe that was introduced in Hawaii as a food plant for sheep and as a biological fence.

The DLNR classifies gorse as a “noxious weed” and its website said it “forms dense, impenetrable thickets that allow nothing else to grow.” Kahele described it as “a very invasive brush that is an ecological disaster, frankly, on the base of Maunakea.”

The bill also requests an unspecified amount for fiscal year 2019-20 to construct a coqui frog barrier fence and various requests for fencing to exclude invasive animals from protected areas in Maui’s Maliko Gulch.

In addition to the DLNR, others submitting written testimony in favor of the measure include the state Department of Agriculture and The Nature Conservancy. The University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Agriculture and Human Resources supported the bill with amendments.

Sen. Mike Gabbard, a Leeward Oahu Democrat, also introduced a pair of biosecurity bills.

SB 485 passed the Agriculture and Environment Committee, which Gabbard chairs, unanimously and without amendment Wednesday. The measure would increase the 15-cent share to 30 cents per barrel of the $1.05 petroleum barrel tax deposited into the agricultural development and food security special fund.

Gabbard’s other bill, SB 523, is an omnibus funding measure that would provide more than $6.54 million during the next two fiscal years for all aspects of biosecurity, including $300,000 each year to create an Invasive Species Rapid Response Special Fund.

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