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Opinion: Open letter to Gov. Lingle on Strawberry Guava biocontrol

Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 1880, Pahoa, Hawaii 96778
(808) 935-5563

Dear Governor Lingle;

Are you aware that the Hawai’i government is assuming a large liability for strawberry guava biocontrol? The scale insect being proposed for release, Tectococcus ovatus, will cause unsightly galls on the leaves of this ornamental fruit tree, causing aesthetic damage that will lower the value of the trees and require constant spraying or tree replacement. The government agencies inflicting this damage will be liable for compensating landowners for these damages.

What is the value of a strawberry guava tree? According to established and accepted guidelines for appraising landscape trees, it could be thousands of dollars per tree! There are thousands of residents with strawberry guava trees on their property, with millions of strawberry guava trees privately owned. Compensation for damage to these trees could amount to more than hundreds of millions of dollars.

tectococcusThe USDA Forest Service has acknowledged that such damage will occur in the March, 2008 Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) submitted for this release. “Since strawberry guava is occasionally planted as an ornamental, infestation by T. ovatus may be perceived as damaging to their aesthetic value. In these cases infestation could be controlled by application of appropriate insecticides. For example, T. ovatus is susceptible to insecticidal oil sprays, which are relatively innocuous to the environment and are compatible with production of fruit for consumption. Substituting other plants, such as native Hawaiian trees, for ornamental plantings of strawberry guava is an alternative option.”

The government approving this release will be liable for the costs associated with tree replacement or spraying. There could also be property devaluations as a result of infestations, adding to the damages.

I would like to bring your attention to an opposite situation in California, where biocontrol was used to preserve the aesthetics of ash and ornamental pear trees, which were being defoliated by ash whitefly. According to UC Davis researchers, “Previous research has shown that healthy street trees significantly contribute to the aesthetic beauty of our urban areas. Not surprisingly, people will demand pest control to protect the aesthetic beauty of street trees with levels of defoliation as small as 5%. Therefore, the preservation of a tree’s aesthetic beauty by controlling pest infestations can result in substantial benefits to the community. In addition, healthy trees contribute significantly to property values, whereas defoliated trees cause property values to decrease.” (“A Cost/Benefit Analysis of the Ash Whitefly Biological Control Program in California”. Go to page 5 at this website: www.agecon.ucdavis.edu/extensi… )

Do they care more about tree aesthetics in California than in Hawai’i? Apparently so. However, the public disagrees, and thousands of residents are wanting to stop this biocontrol attack on their trees. The question is whether the government agencies involved have considered the liability created by the damage they will be causing. It is not simply a matter of a few jars of jam. Entire neighborhoods and roadsides will be blighted. And since the trees are expected to continue living with the infestation, they will need to be sprayed or removed and replaced. All at a cost! The government will be liable for this cost.

Realize that this is not an attack on the use of biocontrol as a method of integrated pest management. When used judiciously against certain pests it may be a viable option. However, when used against an ornamental fruit tree that is ubiquitous, there must be discussion and analysis of the damages that must be compensated. So far, this has been lacking in the discussion of this proposed strawberry guava biocontrol.

In addition, while the Hawai’i government encourages the release of “beneficial” insects to manage weeds, I want to point out that this insect is experimental, and not proven beneficial. The work being done by the USDA Forest Service Pacific S.W. Station is completely experimental, and is not part of the Forest Health Protection program. Therefore, this insect does not fall under the state’s mandate for releasing beneficial insects.
Thank you for your attention to this issue. For more information, please see our website www.biodamage.com.

Sincerely,

Sydney Ross Singer
Director, Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc.

6 Responses to “Opinion: Open letter to Gov. Lingle on Strawberry Guava biocontrol”

  1. alani says:

    I totally agree with Sydney R Singer. Strawberry guavas are beautiful plants and the idea of seeing masses of them develop galls and then get yellow and eventually wither and die, is just plain nasty. They are beautiful plants with rich adn shapley red bark and shiny green leaves. I understand the USDA wants to do away with them, but please re-think it. What will eventually grow in their place? Kahili Ginger? Auwe. Please let the waiwi live! mahalo.

  2. Chuck says:

    Mr Singer’s letter is based on the premise that Strawberry Guava is a desirable ornamental fruit tree. While the tree can be beautiful and the fruit luscious, guava is not a suitable street tree because of the abundant fruit that litters the ground. Additionally, in Hawaii, this plant is causing tremendous destruction and loss of irreplaceable assets. The cost of controlling this invasive is significant. On balance, its presence in Hawaii is NOT desirable. I will gladly forego guava nectar or guava jelly to save a native plant that exists nowhere else in the world. I am already spending large amounts of money in a seemingly futile effort to remove guava from my property. A good argument can be made that the people who propagate guava contribute to the extensive destruction and are liable for the associated costs of control.

  3. Soma says:

    Chuck, if you don’t like strawberry guava on your property, then you have a right to get rid of it. But you cannot step on the rights of others to have this tree on their property. Besides, this insect will not remove trees, but only make them galled, ugly and nearly fruitless. You will still need to remove them mechanically or kill them herbicidally. What kind of stupid plan is that! All it will do is give us a blighted environment, reduce property values, and create a huge liability for the state to pay for damages. And the insect could start attacking o’hia and other related tree. Despite any research done on this insect’s preferences in the laboratory, it will adapt and evolve in the wild, especially when it is everywhere looking for food. This could be the worst thing for our native forests. And it’s all an experiment. Why would anyone want this, unless they are getting grant money for it, or will be paid later to spray chemicals to fight this new insect invasion.

  4. Chuck says:

    Soma, I would contend that Guava is a blight on the Island. You are ignoring the damage that guava is doing to the native forests which are protected by laws concerning endangered species. The state has a legal obligation to control guava. My neighbors who have guava on their properties are causing damage to my property because the plant is invasive and spreads uncontrollably. They are causing me harm and preventing me from using my property as I want. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a right to have guava on your property. Arguing that the state will incur a huge liability or that property values will fall are scare tactics that have no basis in fact. I do recognize that there is some uncertainty regarding the long term effects of releasing the insect, but we need to make informed decisions not suppositions. Accusing people who support this measure of having a financial interest in the outcome is insulting and wrong!

  5. Soma says:

    Strawberry guava is not an invasive species. It has been here in Hawaii since the 1820’s. It is listed by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture as an ornamental fruit tree, not a noxious weed.

  6. dusti says:

    I have two strawberry guava trees and I love to eat from them. If you don’t want the tree on your property- kill it, remove it. Don’t deprive me of something I like to eat on my own property when it’s not bothering anyone else. They are in the middle of my front yard garden far from my neighbors’ houses.

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