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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Park's miconia war chest vanishes in technicality

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

A plan to use entrance fees to raise up to $1 million annually for miconia eradication has been quashed by a government lawyer, setting back efforts by Haleakala National Park to support the battle against the invasive alien plant by at least a half-year.

Miconia, which forms dense thickets that block out native plants, is invading the Haleakala park rainforest.

Advertiser library photo • Mar. 6, 1997

But superintendent Don Reeser, declaring that miconia is the park's top threat, said he's hoping to make up for the setback by using money budgeted for other projects.

Meanwhile, miconia continues to be a growing threat to the park's Kipahulu Valley, one of the nation's most unspoiled native rain forests. Four plants were recently discovered in a neighboring valley, a sign that the aggressive plant continues to spread in East Maui.

Last summer, Reeser, calling the miconia invasion an emergency, announced that entrance fees would be charged at the Kipahulu District for the first time starting Jan. 1, and that a large portion of the park's fees would go for miconia eradication.

In December, however, an Interior Department attorney ruled that using such fees to wage war against a plant outside park boundaries is not legal. Such money can be used only within the park proper, according to the legislation that allows the parks to retain 80 percent of entrance fees for local projects.

Reeser said he's hoping to get an exemption enabling the use of entrance fee money for miconia control in the future. Until then, he plans to shuffle some money around. There's a bit of paperwork involved, he said, but the plan is to redirect "base funds'' to the miconia effort and use the entrance fee money to pay for items that would have otherwise been financed, including a $400,000 fencing project designed to ward off feral animals above Ka'apahu Valley.

"We've got to get rid of that stuff,'' he said of the miconia. "It's worse than people tromping around in the summit (following the recent snowfall).''

But the snag will delay the park's miconia contribution for at least six months, officials said, which is unfortunate because money is scarce right now and recent heavy rainfall has caused the miconia to flower profusely.

"The flowers are blooming and the seeds are maturing,'' said Christy Martin, spokeswoman for the Maui Invasive Species Committee. "They're easier to spot and kill right now, but we don't have the money. Last week, we had to cancel our helicopter operations.''

Martin said the committee was looking to the national park's money contribution to perhaps double the size of its work crew, increase its helicopter operations and purchase additional equipment.

The project recently got a shot in the arm when 15 workers from the state Legislature-funded Emergency Environmental Workforce joined the effort. But Martin said there isn't enough money to fully supply and outfit the crews. She said the committee is hoping lawmakers are able to provide more money.

"It's an interesting juggling act at this point,'' she said. "All the balls are up in the air and we're not sure which one to catch.''

Meanwhile, miconia continues to march south from its stronghold on the slopes above Hana. Martin said the committee's last helicopter mission was able to kill four fruiting trees within Waiho'i Valley, the valley adjacent to the national park's Kipahulu Valley.

Federal biologist Lloyd Loope said the miconia found so close to Kipahulu points to the need for more money for eradication. He also said it's important to boost efforts to find a biocontrol agent. A natural enemy, found in the plant's Latin American home turf, may present the best chance for long-term control, he said.

In its native habitat, miconia is kept in balance by fungi and insects not found in Hawai'i. With no enemies here, miconia is free to spread far and wide, its large leaves shading out native plants, killing the plants underneath its canopy and creating single-species ecosystems that accelerate erosion and undermine the watershed.

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.