Categorized | Opinions

An open letter to Mayor Kenoi on biocontrol

July 13, 2009

Dear Mayor Kenoi:

I am writing you on behalf of thousands of residents who have been opposing efforts of the US Forest Service to release an alien scale insect, Tectococcus ovatus, as a biocontrol for strawberry guava.

We have just discovered that the new environmental assessment, which was expected on May 23, is now indefinitely postponed.

This is a great relief to many residents who enjoy waiawi fruit, which is considered a “super-food” for its nutritional value. As the current economic recession drags on, more and more people will come to appreciate and rely on our wild foods. Using our natural resources, like strawberry guava, is what sustainability and food sovereignty is all about.

However, this scale insect is already on the Big Island, being reared in a quarantine facility operated by the US Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Many residents are concerned that the insects may escape, along with other species of plant pests and pathogens that are being researched at that facility. Accidental release of quarantined insects or other pathogens could result in environmental and agricultural devastation. Fueling the concern was a 2005 article in the Maui News, where the quarantine facility was described as “decrepit” by Dr. Tracy Johnson, who operates the facility.

Upon investigation, we have discovered that the Volcano facility was not engineered to withstand earthquakes, and does not meet current Federal seismic construction standards.

We also learned the Hawaii Department of Agriculture does not know what other insects or plant pathogens are being reared and researched at that facility, claiming that the US Forest Service is not required to get a State permit to import alien insects, fungi, or other pathogens for research in federal facilities.

The public needs, and has a right, to know what other species are being reared at that quarantine facility. However, the Forest Service is not wanting to give that information.

We have been told by Mr. Mento of the Hawaii County Civil Defense that his department has contacted Boone Kaufman of the Forest Service, who manages the Volcano facility, and Mr. Kaufman is preparing a written response.

Mayor Kenoi, please help get the Volcano quarantine facility closed down for the safety of our island. A highly active volcanic island is a foolish place to put an insect quarantine facility — unless the entire island is to be regarded as nothing more than a field test site for insect research.

With your attention to this vital issue, we may be able to avert what is otherwise an inevitable earthquake catastrophe.


Sydney Ross Singer
Medical Anthropologist
Director, Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease
P.O. Box 1880, Pahoa, Hawaii 96778

4 Responses to “An open letter to Mayor Kenoi on biocontrol”

  1. No Sympathy says:

    What a wacko!

  2. james says:

    It is insane to build a quarantine facility on a volcanic island with lots of earthquakes. Typical government stupidity. Now let’s see if anyone does anything about this, or just waits for an accident to happen.

  3. Nicolai Barca says:

    That may be a good point about the facility not being up to earthquake standards, or maybe it isn't. I don't know. It is definitely fear mongering. So it looks like round two is coming. I would argue however that strawberry guava, upon closer inspection is actually what sustainability is NOT about: a cancer upon the land eliminating other resources, overproducing low value fruit, and causing millions of dollars in fruit fly damage to more desirable crops. Few people consume more than a handful at a time of the tart little fruits. Using host-specific natural enemies from it's home range can bring this plant into equilibrium with its new environment. It would then be reduced from a problem, to a valued resource by all, much like Banana poka has been over the last decade. Our other option is to continue using herbicides and money to protect our watersheds and native plants/animals in what is a losing battle. If guava, clidemia, kahili ginger and Miconia can be…

  4. Nicolai Barca says:

    …controlled with host-specific natural enemies, then our Hawaiian wilderness has a chance for survival. It's the best and only option for success. We have learned from the past and biological control has a good track record over the last decades. Similarly, we have learned from the past what fruit trees are invasive and which are okay to plant. You want wild fruits in the future, then plant avocados, mangos, jackfruit, plums, etc. -Nic


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