Commentary – Partners in Crime: Environmental Group and Hawaii Government Sued for Poisoning Shoreline

Commentary Submitted by Sydney Ross Singer:

A righteous lawsuit has just begun on the Big Island of Hawaii to seek an injunction ending the environmental destruction caused, not by invasive species, but by invasive species eradicators.

Being eradicated is the famous mangrove tree, which lives in brackish waters along shoreline wetlands. Mangroves are valued around the world for their beauty, protection of the shoreline during tsunamis and storms, protection of coral reefs from runoff and siltation, creation of fish nursery habitats, and purification of polluted waters, among other things.

But in Hawaii, where native species supremacists run amok, the mangrove’s “non-native” status has condemned it to extermination, to the very last propagule…

Currently under attack are 15 acres of prime shoreline and conservation land, some near popular beaches, with swimmers, snorkelers, and surfers nearby, all deemed guilty of harboring mangroves. These include Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo, Isaac Hale Beach Park in Pohoiki, Paki Bay, and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park.

The method of attack is to apply herbicide, killing the trees and leaving them dead, decaying, and rotting in place. The dead trees will stay there for years to come. Proponents of this method state that using poisons avoids the need to conduct an Environmental Assessment, and is less expensive than hand removal, which can disturb the soil and trigger an Environmental Assessment.

An Environmental Assessment is necessary to determine if an action poses a potential threat to the environment, human health, the economy, cultural resources, etc.

Why avoid an Environmental Assessment? It takes time, money, and involves public comment and scrutiny, which could backfire on plans to experiment with poison on trees along the shoreline.

Early testing of the poison plan was conducted in 2009 at the Wai ‘Opae Marine Life Conservation District in Puna, and results compiled by the U.S. Forest Service show that killing the mangroves harmed the native fish, which are now disappearing since the 20 acres of mangroves were poisoned. This once beautiful and healthy ecosystem, visited by tourists and home to some endangered species, now looks like the site of a toxic spill disaster, with dead trees everywhere, scum on the water, and few fish.

Never before were mangroves poisoned to death in mass like this.

The mangrove eradication was supposed to save native fish, not kill them.

Without any Environmental Assessment there was no public comment period, or an explanation of why poisoning trees and leaving them all to rot in place is a good thing for the environment, or an explanation of why mangroves, which are good for environments everywhere else in the world, are somehow bad in Hawaii.

And now the other sensitive shoreline conservation lands which have mangroves are under attack using poison and leaving the dead trees to rot in place.

Sounds questionable? Nobody asked questions, since the perpetrators are all partners in the Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC), a public-private partnership, highly influenced by the chemical industry, and committed to eradication of non-native species. BIISC partners include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which is funding the poison plan, the County of Hawaii, which permitted it and illegally exempted the project from an Environmental Assessment, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, which also failed to require a permit and also illegally exempted the project from an Environmental Assessment, and a local non-profit organization, Malama o Puna, that actually is doing the poisoning. All are BIISC partners. The poison was donated by BASF and Monsanto.

But not everyone in the government is in on this.

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) is worried that rotting vegetation will pollute the water, causing fish die-offs, and create a public health hazard. The Department of the Army (DA) is worried about pieces of floating dead trees hitting boats and people, since the dead, rotting trees are not being removed and will eventually work their way into the reefs and ocean. And the National Park Service strongly opposes the use of poisons at Honokohau to kill mangroves because of the threat to endangered species in the area, the risk of damage to cultural sites and fishponds, and the hazard of water pollution caused by the decaying trees and leaves.

But no governmental body stopped the poison plan. With virtually everyone in the government environmental field acting as partners, the checks and balances that are needed for honest, objective, and scientific environmental management are lost.

Residents got wind of the recent poisoning at the popular Pohoiki Beach Park when the smell of decaying trees and leaves filled the air at low tide. Questions were finally asked by the public, such as why an environmental assessment was not done, and why this poison experiment was being done on our fragile shoreline ecosystem.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife stopped the project immediately upon receiving a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to explain why they did not require an Environmental Assessment. Three weeks later, however, Fish and Wildlife issued a retroactive categorical exemption from needing one. They stated that they did not think the poisoning of Hawaii’s shoreline conservation land was significant enough to require an Environmental Assessment. The green light was again on for “mangrovicide”.

It is for times like this that the Public Attorney General Doctrine was created, empowering the public to sue for environmental protection. When the government is not doing its job protecting the environment, the people must stand up and fight for our environmental rights.

A citizen lawsuit has just been filed against the Federal, State and County governments, BIISC, and Malama o Puna. Trial date to be set soon….Stay tuned…

For more information, contact Sydney Ross Singer at Save the Mangroves at 808-935-5563, or email [email protected].

6 Responses

  1. This story was a good reminder that it’s been a while since I donated to Malama O Puna. It’s motivated me to triple my donation this year. What’s next? The “Save the Miconia” organization. I have never lived anywhere that people are so openly proud of their ignorance and lack of understanding of, well, pretty much everything.

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