Friday, April 25, 2008

Snakes and other scary invasives targeted

The threat of new invasive species in Hawai'i grows with the expansion of trade, and with each increase in incoming cargo.

(Image: A brown tree snake fang. USGS photo.)

A bill that is moving well in the Hawai'i state Legislature seeks to help fund the inspection of cargo with a $.50 per ton fee. It is HB2843, and was in conference committee at this writing.

Invasive species have cost the Islands plenty in recent years—think about the bug that has killed off much of the state's ornamental wiliwili, causing landscapers to simply chain saw the trees down. And the aquatic weed that choked Lake Wilson, with an extensive, expensive cleanup cost.

“The coqui frog, Salvinia molesta, Miconia calvescence, ohia rust, nettle caterpillar, and little fire ant are all present in Hawaii, disrupting the delicate balance of our ecosystems, crowding out native species, and reducing the biodiversity of our islands. Other harmful species like the papaya mealybug, Erythrina gall wasp, Asian citrus psyllid, and Varroa mite have the potential to devastate our environment and agriculture if allowed to become widespread in Hawaii and spread unchecked by natural predators,” the bill says.

The elephant in the room, though, is a serpent. The threat of the brown tree snake is difficult to understate. In Guam, it has wiped out virtually all native birdlife, causes regular electrical outages, and crawls into babies' cribs to bite them.

Says the bill in the Legislature:

“In Guam, the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake has resulted in widespread devastation. Without natural predators or competition for food, brown tree snake populations have grown exponentially, causing mass extinctions of endemic birds. Where there were once bird songs, the silent forests of Guam are now home to as many as fifteen thousand snakes per square mile. Just one new pest like the brown tree snake could forever change the character of the Hawaiian islands.”

Despite a concerted effort, searchers still haven't found the latest apparent snake import, which was spotted last week at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i.

A particular concern is a dramatic increase in construction at military facilities in Guam, which will require considerably more movement between Guam and Hawai'i.

Christy Martin, Public Information Officer for CGAPS, the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, said that current efforts in Hawai'i are “inadequate to ensure that all incoming cargo, ships and planes are inspected for brown treesnakes.”

Last year's Legislature placed a $1 charge on big incoming ocean shipping containers, but that did not cover the considerable amount of containerized air cargo and stuff that comes that's not in containers. House Bill 2843 would address that, she said.

It would replace the shipping container charge with the $.50 per ton fee on all cargo.

For an update on the bill, see

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate