Wednesday, February 7, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Airport inspectors find plenty of trouble

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui Bureau

KAHULUI, Maui — A trial period of beefed-up agricultural inspections under way at Kahului Airport has turned up hundreds of insects and diseases, many not known to occur in Hawaii.

State agriculture officials said yesterday that inspectors have returned contaminated shipments to the Mainland and have destroyed others as part of an effort to see exactly what’s needed to intercept alien species at an airport that is soon expected to be accepting international flights.

At the same time, they said, the project may shed some light on weaknesses that may exist at inspection points at other ports of entry across the state.

Agriculture officials described their pest risk assessment study last night at a meeting sponsored by the Maui Invasive Species Committee and the Maui Farm Bureau.

The effort, they said, is being financed by $300,000 in Federal Aviation Administration money and features more inspectors and dog teams, a doubling of the staff at Kahului Airport. The project was launched in late September and will continue during intermittent three- and four-week periods for a year.

Lyle Wong, Plant Industry Division administrator, said workers are conducting a 100 percent inspection of all incoming domestic flights and air cargo containers of agricultural products such as fresh fruits and vegetables and also are looking at aircraft cabin cargo and wheel wells.

Specifically, inspectors are looking for plant materials, insects, animals and other organisms that could wreak havoc on Maui’s environment and crops.

Entomologist Neil Reimer said that Kahului Airport inspectors intercepted 90 plant diseases and 844 insects, mites, snails and other pests from Sept. 25 to Dec. 15. That compares to typical results of 1,200 interceptions a year islandwide.

Of the 844 pests, nearly 200 of them are not known to occur in Hawaii, Reimer said, and about 200 more were too immature to be identified. The rest already are established in the Islands.

Lloyd Loope, U.S. Geological Survey scientist stationed at Haleakala National Park, said the numbers indicate the inspection system is "a leaky sieve."

"We’re finding out just how leaky it is," Loope said.

The best solution for Hawaii seems to be to push for pre-inspections before goods leave the Mainland, he said.

"Otherwise, Hawaii will continue to accumulate a host of pests that impact all aspects of life and business in Hawaii," Loope said.

When state officials announced plans to expand Kahului Airport 10 years ago, some critics questioned the wisdom of accommodating international flights and even more Mainland flights without a more serious quarantine effort to prevent invasive alien pests.

The critics complained that the existing inspection system was inadequate and getting less effective over time because of budget cuts.

More than two years ago, state and federal authorities signed an agreement on preventing introduction of alien species at Kahului Airport. A team of representatives from state and federal agencies, the airline industry and the Maui tourism industry was formed to look at the issue, and an Alien Species Action Plan was formulated.

Reimer said preliminary data show plants present a higher risk of bringing in pests, while passengers and baggage are a lower risk.

Fred Kraus, the state’s alien species coordinator, said increased port-of-entry inspections statewide would help filter out many pests, including an increasing number of snakes.

Scientists have said more than 15 new pest species become established in Hawaii each year.

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