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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 25, 2005

DLNR seeks $4 million to fight invasive species

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is asking the Legislature for $4 million for a second year to fight the onslaught of invasive species facing Hawai'i, including coqui frogs, the miconia plant, fire ants and brown tree snakes.

The DLNR wants more money to fight invasive species, including the brown tree snake.

USGS photo via Associated Press

"This is the No. 1 priority for our department," said Peter Young, DLNR chairman. "What we view as our natural resources are being destroyed by invasive species. We're trying to get that message out. This is not just a single-year project."

Young presented a report to a joint hearing of the House committee on water, land and ocean resources, the House agriculture committee and the Senate water, land and agriculture committee at the Capitol yesterday.

"Our program is multi-faceted," Young said. "It's dealing with prevention, it's dealing with responses, research and outreach. The coqui frog on the Big Island is addressed in our plan. The brown tree snake in Guam is being addressed in our plan. Agricultural pests are addressed in our plan. It is trying to keep the momentum going for this integrated plan rather than piecemeal.

"This year we are asking for more funding. We are dealing with a significant bad thing but are making significant steps forward."

In 2003, the Legislature authorized the creation of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to organize coordinated approaches among various state departments, federal agencies, and international and local initiatives.

Last year, $4 million was budgeted for the council from the Natural Area Reserve fund. The money will be matched by non-state grants and donations, Young said.

The state is trying to eradicate the miconia plant and the coqui frog, and keep out fire ants.

Advertiser library photos

Hawai'i is in the midst of a growing invasive species crisis affecting the Islands' plants and animals, overall environmental and human health, and the viability of its tourism and agriculture-based economy, according to the DLNR report. Invasive pests cost the state millions of dollars in crop losses, the extinction of native species, the destruction of native forests and the spread of disease.

Hawai'i, with its fragile native species, is more vulnerable than most states to damage by invasive species, according to a report by the Center for Biological Diversity. It says almost half of the 114 species that have become extinct in the first 20 years of the federal Endangered Species Act were in Hawai'i.

Hawai'i is home to a total of 1,348 identified species of plants and animals, according to the group, including 317 species listed as threatened and endangered.ÊThis ranks Hawai'i 50th of the 50 states for number of species and first for number of listed species.

A branch of the state council has been set up in each county to define the problems, create a strategic action plan and coordinate with various groups.

The report details how the first $4 million is being spent: $1.34 million on prevention, $1.7 million on response and control, $700,000 on research and technology, and $260,000 on public outreach.

Last week, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim asked lawmakers for $2 million to start a team that would battle the coqui frog invasion, which threatens the island's ecosystem.

Coqui frogs are rampant throughout the Big Island as well as parts of Maui, Kim said.

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa said his county wants an additional $2 million to deal with the coqui frog. Arakawa said his administration also wants $2 million in each of the next 10 years to deal with the miconia problem.

At yesterday's hearing, Sen. J. Kalani English, D-6th (E. Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i), asked Young if his program should be more focused on specific problem areas.

"They are not getting the support they need," English said. "We'd like the coqui problem stepped up and supported."

Young said the council focuses on partnerships and all aspects of the problem from stopping pests from reaching Hawai'i to methodically eradicating it once discovered.

"I understand their frustrations and they should know the money is getting to the counties," Young said. "My concern is that if we go piecemeal then we lose the momentum of a program that has already been established, that is being addressed by multiple departments and has clear support from the governor. Invasive species are not piecemeal. It is not a single species in a particular location."

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.