Commentary – Open Letter to DLNR and DOA: Hawaii Needs Biodamage Comp Fund

To: Russell Kokobun, Chairman, HDOA and William Aila, Jr., Chairman, DLNR

Many residents and property owners are very concerned about potential property damage to privately owned strawberry guava trees and potential negative health impacts caused by the biocontrol insect, T. ovatus, released in Volcano and Waiakea last year.

The State needs a biodamage mitigation fund to pay for private property damage from biocontol releases. Without this fund, the State is putting property owners and residents at risk without a guarantee of ability to compensate victims.

The problem is that biological control is not area specific, but spreads to private property.

If the government used herbicide and there was over-spray that damaged private property, then the harmed parties must be compensated for damages, according to the Hawaii and US Constitutions. The same should apply to biocontrol agents floating or flying onto private property to infest trees.

What is the government’s plan to mitigate the property damage to privately owned strawberry guava trees if they suffer in appearance and fruiting by this biological control release?

Are there guidelines and procedures recommended by the DOA whereby people can document harm to their trees and seek compensation without having to resort to litigation?

How will the government compensate people for health impacts, such as allergies and respiratory problems that may result from exposure large numbers of airborne nymphs and eggs expected to be released by this insect?

Please understand that for the people living in environments that have abundant strawberry guava, this insect release is seen as a potential health threat and abuse of private property rights.

Your department is mandated to protect the environment, but you only consider the natural and agricultural environments as worthy of protection. However, peoples’ backyards and neighborhoods are just as much environments as are native forest and farm land. Our novel ecosystems and backyards need protection, too.

The government has been categorically labeling species as invasive, including strawberry guava. This is a big error.  Species can have resource value and provide benefits in some contexts, despite being invasive in another. You need to label contextually, not categorically, and recognize that people live in different environments and have different values than those of forest or ag land managers.

Private property owners are important stakeholders, and many have opposed this release against strawberry guava. The Hawaii County Council passed a resolution banning this release. There were over 5,000 petition signatures of residents opposing this release. This means that: 1. the government is not listening to the voice of the people; and 2. if there is significant damage from these insects, everyone will know it and see it, and there will a massive outcry against the government. Future biocontrol efforts will be opposed vehemently. And litigation will be likely.

Without a biodamage mitigation fund to pay for private property damage from biocontrol releases, the State is putting property owners and residents at risk of suffering irreparable harm.  This is neither legally nor morally justifiable.

Please stop further biocontrol releases until this fund is established.

Sincerely,

Sydney Ross Singer, Medical Anthropologist – Director, Good Shepherd Foundation

Sid Singer

Syd Singer

Hawaii Entomologists Ramp Up Production of Moth to Control Toxic Fireweed

Hawaii ranchers are hopeful that a small beige-colored moth will be able to control the fireweed, an invasive plant that is toxic to livestock and has caused havoc on the state’s prime pasturelands. For more than 13 years, entomologists and researchers at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) have literally searched the world for a natural enemy of the weed that would be safe to release in Hawaii. The most promising turned out to be an insect called Secusio extensa (Arctiidae), the Madagascan Fireweed Moth, the larvae of which voraciously eats the leaves of fireweed.

Madagascan Fireweed Moth

Madagascan Fireweed Moth

It is believed that the weed came to the islands in hydromulch material imported from Australia where it is a serious pest. HDOA entomologists on Oahu have begun stepping up production of the moth after receiving the long-awaited approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which came on Dec. 6, 2012. The state approved the release of the moth in 2010, but also required approval of a federal permit.  The first release of the biocontrol insects is slated for early 2013, depending on the rearing of the insects in the laboratory.

“Years of extensive research have been conducted on this biocontrol program,” said Russell S. Kokubun, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.  “Control of this weed is one of the more important issues to Hawaii ranchers, and we are hopeful that it can be controlled by this natural process.”

Fireweed Plant

Fireweed Plant

“Fireweed has become an even more aggressive pest during this extended period of drought,” said
Dr. Tim Richards, president of Kahua Ranch on Hawaii Island. “So it’s even more critical to our industry’s sustainability that an effective control prevents additional loss of productive pasturelands.”

In 1999, HDOA began looking for a biological control for the pretty but deadly plant with yellow daisy-like flowers, also known as Madagascar Ragwort. It is estimated that the weed has infested more than 850,000 acres, mainly on Maui and Hawaii Island. Although there are effective pesticides, it is expensive and impractical to use across hundreds and thousands of acres.  Besides Hawaii, fireweed has spread through many parts of the world killing animals in Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Japan. Secusio will be the first biocontrol agent to be released against Madagascar fireweed in the world.

HDOA’s exploratory entomologist, Dr. Mohsen Ramadan, traveled to Australia, South Africa and Madagascar in 1999 and returned with 14 insects and one fungus, which were researched and tested under quarantine conditions.  Some were found to be ineffective, while others were found to harm other native or beneficial plants.  Dr. Ramadan traveled to the region again in 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2012 to look for more potential biocontrols for fireweed and other pests, such as coffee berry borer, small hive beetle and the protea mealybug.

Madagascan Fireweed Moth Larvae

Madagascan Fireweed Moth Larvae

Entomologists and staff in Honolulu were busy not only trying to keep the quarantined pests alive, but it also meant that they also had to grow the fireweed to host the moths.  HDOA is also testing four other potential natural enemies of fireweed, each which appear to attack different parts of the plant.

“Until now, we have been able to keep generations of this moth alive under quarantine conditions,” said Darcy Oishi, section chief of the Biocontrol Section. “We have now switched gears and begun to ramp up production to increase the chances of successful control of fireweed. With the support of the ranchers and others, we hope to release more than one million moths this year.”

“Biological control of pests can be the most efficient and cost-effective method to manage significant pests,” added Dr. Neil Reimer, manager of HDOA’s Plant Pest Control Branch.  “Since 1975, HDOA has released 51 biocontrol agents and all have been successful and none have been found to attack anything but the target pest or weed.”

“Fireweed has proven to be highly invasive and in certain areas has reduced the forage production by as much as 60 percent,” said Dr. Mark Thorne, state range specialist with the University of Hawaii – College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “With the pending release of Secusio, ranchers will have a valuable tool that will help them recover some of the economic value of their pastures.”

Fireweed Flower

Fireweed Flower

Biological control, which utilizes natural plant enemies and/or diseases, is needed in natural and managed ecosystems as a tool for managing invasive plant species that are too widespread and expensive to control using herbicides and/or mechanical removal methods. Although challenging to implement, effective biocontrol can provide long-term, large-scale, highly selective control of otherwise prolific weeds. Current research methods thoroughly test potential biocontrol agents prior to release to ensure that they only attack the target weed and not other native or beneficial plants or animals.

Hawaii continues to be a leader in biocontrol of pests. The Kingdom of Hawaii was a world leader in biocontrol with successful introductions of a beetle to control cottony cushion scale in 1890. After Hawaii became a U.S. territory in 1900, biological control methods progressed with the introduction of several insect species to control lantana in 1902. Since then, researchers in Hawaii continue to be internationally recognized in biological control of weeds and plant pests and have collaborated with colleagues worldwide on the biological control of invasive weeds and pests such as miconia, fountain grass, banana poka, ivy gourd, gorse, wiliwili gall wasp and nettle caterpillar, among others.

13th International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds Next Week

Alligator weed

Alligator weed

About 200 invasive weed experts from around the world will convene next week on Hawai`i Island for the XIII International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds.  The symposium begins on Sunday, September 11th through Friday, September 16th at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa on the Kohala Coast.  This international conference is held once every four years and is the premier international forum for scientists and managers working in biological control of weeds around the world.

Biological control, which utilizes natural plant enemies and/or diseases, is needed in natural and managed ecosystems worldwide as a tool for managing invasive plant species that are too widespread and expensive to control using herbicides and/or mechanical removal methods.  Although challenging to implement, effective biocontrol can provide long-term, large-scale, highly selective control of otherwise prolific weeds.  Current research methods thoroughly test potential biocontrol agents prior to release to ensure that they only attack the target weed and not other native or beneficial plants or animals.

“Biological control is a necessary tool for protecting our native forests from highly invasive plants,” said Tracy Johnson, PhD, research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (USDA-FS) and co-chair of the symposium. “This meeting in Hawai`i will provide a unique opportunity to draw on worldwide expertise to create new solutions for our worst weeds.”

“It is so appropriate that Hawai`i hosts this important symposium since the biological control of weeds actually began in Hawai`i,” said Neil Reimer, PhD, Plant Pest Control manager for the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture (HDOA).  “With the tight economy and the Department of Agriculture’s diminished resources, the collaboration between states and nations becomes even more important.”

The Kingdom of Hawai`i was a world leader in biocontrol with successful introductions of a beetle to control cottony cushion scale in 1890.  After Hawai`i became a U.S. territory in 1900, biological control methods progressed with the introduction of several insect species to control lantana in 1902.  Since then, researchers in Hawai`i continue to be internationally recognized in biological control of weeds and plant pests and have collaborated with colleagues worldwide on the biological control of invasive weeds such as miconia, fireweed, fountain grass, banana poka, ivy gourd and gorse, among others. Many of those who have collaborated with Hawai`i researchers are attending the conference from the U.S. Mainland and countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, Brazil, Costa Rica, and South Africa.

The conference is hosted by HDOA, USDA-FS, and the University of Hawai`i at Hilo Conference Center.

Sponsors of the conference include: USDA-FS Pacific Southwest Research Station, Hawai`i County Department of Research & Development, Hawaiian Electric Company & Hawai`i Electric Light Company, Landcare Research Manaaki Whenua (New Zealand), U.S. Geological Survey Pacific Island Ecosystem Research Center, Hawaii Forest and Trail, Destination Hilo, HDOA, Maui Invasive Species Committee, University of Hawai`i at Hilo Conference Center.

To view the conference agenda and information go to:  http://isbcw2011.uhhconferencecenter.com/