Categorized | Opinions

Opinion: Bug plan squashed?

by Sydney Ross Singer

(Hilo) Hawaii’s first resolution to ban biocontrol was approved 6-3 by the Hawaii County Council on August 19th. The ban is on any use of biocontrol targeting relatives of the o’hia tree, the primary tree of our native forests, which includes the strawberry guava, paperbark trees, guava, eucalyptus, and other members of the myrtle family.

While the resolution is non-binding, it comes as a blow to the US Forest Service, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which have been proposing the experimental infestation of the entire state of Hawaii with an alien scale insect, called Tectococcus ovatus, for the management of strawberry guava.

Biocontrol researchers deliberately infest the environment with biological “agents”, which are alien insects, fungi, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, used to attack targeted “weed” species. The goal is to make these weeds sick, slowing their growth and spread.

Unfortunately, introducing any alien species can cause unpredictable impacts on the environment. Introduced species, for example, are known to evolve and adapt to using new food sources, and can do so rapidly and unpredictably. This makes using biocontrol a risky gamble that Big Island residents are not willing to take.

Big Island Councilmember Kelly Greenwell introduced Resolution 80-09 banning biocontrol against relatives of the o’hia to protect the o’hia tree. Relatives of targeted species are the most likely to be attacked as the biocontrol “agent” seeks new food sources, making the o’hia vulnerable to attack by any biocontrol release against any tree in the myrtle family, of which the o’hia is a member.

The public has been strongly opposed to the proposed scale insect attack on the strawberry guava, with over 6,000 residents on the Big Island signing a petition opposing the release.

Private property owners who enjoy having strawberry guava for its wood, fruit, and beauty would have to spray pesticides to try controlling the scale on their property, or bulldoze and replace the infested trees with scale resistant species, according to the US Forest Service, the lead agency proposing this biocontrol experiment. Property damage compensation has not been addressed, and could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. See for more details.

Other residents express health concerns over the proposed insect infestation. Trillions of insect eggs and crawling nymphs, which would be floating in the air and dispersed with the wind, along with the tiny flying males, could create a health hazard when contacted by the skin or inhaled, especially for asthmatics and people with allergies to chitin, a common allergen associated with insects. This problem could be especially bad in residential areas, such as lower Puna, where strawberry guava is prevalent and insect infestations could be astronomical, especially since there are no predators for this alien insect in Hawaii to control its numbers.

Hunters are concerned about the impact of reduced fruit for pigs and other wildlife. Farmers are concerned that the scale insect could start attacking commercial crops. And many environmentalists fear the introduction of any alien species could result in a new invasive species problem, especially with insects and fungi whose impact is difficult to follow, and impossible to reverse or stop.

The proposed attack on strawberry guava also came at a time when people are unemployed and are especially grateful for having free, wild food. An attempt last spring to ban the biocontrol of food plants was made by Big Island Senator Takamine and Representative Nakashima. Unfortunately, SB 108 and HCR 249 were never allowed to get a hearing by committee chairs.

According to critics, the basic problem with biocontrol is that it spreads onto private property, its impact is unpredictable, it is a living organism that can evolve and adapt rapidly, and after release there is no turning back. The environment is changed, forever.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to biocontrol, which were raised at several County Council meetings. The University of Hawaii has patented a clean process for converting green matter into biochar, a valuable soil amendment, as well as a clean process for creating carbon, also in high demand commercially. Instead of considering strawberry guava, guava, ironwood, albesia, and other non-native trees as “weeds”, we can now treat them as resources. Creating an industry to harvest, process, and sell wood products from our forests can help conservation efforts while creating jobs and opportunities. It also avoids the risks caused by releasing alien species.

Residents have expressed their disapproval of using biocontrol against the strawberry guava and other myrtles. It remains to be seen whether or not the state and federal agencies proposing these biocontrol experiments will respect and abide by the will of the County Council. The basic question is whether the future of our island will be determined by federal and state government biocontrol researchers, or by the people.

Sydney Ross Singer
Director, Good Shepherd Foundation
P.O. Box 1880, Pahoa, Hawaii 96778

8 Responses to “Opinion: Bug plan squashed?”

  1. ainawise says:

    Right On! Power to the PEOPLE! And aren't these government agencies supposed to be protecting the environment and agriculture from invasive species, instead of releasing new ones they call "biocontrol"?

  2. No Sympathy says:

    What a stunning display of ignorance. The County Council should have banned Singer instead.

  3. Save the Ohia says:

    Even if you argue that biocontrol is risky method of contol, it is EXTREMELY unrealistic to promote the "alternative" control methods mentioned here. Strawberry guava is a problem in REMOTE, ECOLOGICALLY SENSITIVE areas… the is absolutely no way that "harvesting a resource" could take place in such areas. Exctraction would require the expense and damage of building roads and physically damaginging all surrounding vegetation. If you want to see what this kind of "resource" use looks like, go to Oregon, Indonesia, etc. Such "control" would cost far more (economically and ecologically) than it would make. It would also require herbicides (strawberry guava resprouts when cut) and repeated control over huge areas (there are a lot of seeds in the soil that will simply sprout and start the whole invesation over again).

  4. Save the Ohia says:

    The fact is that most environmentalists actually favor bicontrol as a safer method of control, as is evidenced by the many organizations that have supported it (… The sentiments expressed in the above piece represent a poorly informed group of people with little interest in native ecosystems, who view problematic invasives as nice things to have ( is a site promoted by Syd Singer and the Good Shepherd Foundation)

  5. Sandi Trend says:

    I applaud you for taking a stand on bio-control products!

    My son worked for a biotech company that manufactures bio-control products such as you are speaking about in this article. The reason, I believe what happened to son was NOT reported to federal and state agencies as is mandated by law is the company was waiting for EPA registration on one of their products. As it turned out, the EPA only granted the company a CONDITIONAL TIME LIMITED registration as they themselves found numerous problems with batches that had been sent to them.

    Just today, I presented the California Commission on Health
    and Safety and Workers’ Compensation with the following letter
    of complaint:

    August 27, 2009

    Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation
    1515 Clay St,
    Oakland, CA 94612

    RE: Complaint

    California is NOT protecting employees rights to work in safe and healthy environments nor are injured employees given the right to know of the hazards they have been exposed to.

    California employers, who willfully violate Federal and state laws are not held accountable, they are given the green light to continue to violate the law and their misdeeds of fraud and concealment are hidden under the umbrella of protection within the corrupt California worker’s compensation system.

    My son, David Bell worked as a laboratory Assistant Researcher/Microbiologist (to obtain lab hours for his Bachelor of Science Degree) for one of these employers, Agraquest Inc. (AQ) a biotechnology company that discovers, screens and experiments with known and unknown microorganisms, AQ searches the world for microorganisms; and brings them into the U.S., mostly in soil, They receive microorganisms from “microbe hunters” and other biotech companies; not known is whether they were natural or mutations and had been genetically modified. At last count there were over 23,000 microorganisms in AQ’s “microbe collection”.

    David also worked with and was exposed to larvae and live insects.
    After 5 months and 9 days at AQ, after vomiting and being sick for days David had purulent bloody pus draining from his nose. He told his supervisor he was sick and clocked out. He then went to Immediate Care Medical Clinic; was placed on the broad spectrum antibiotic Zithromax and told to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. This he did; now the left side of his face and teeth were numb. He was scheduled for the first, of what would become four major sinus surgeries only seven ( 7 ) days after seeking emergency medical care. He’s had countless other sinus procedures in physicians offices through the years.

    David stopped producing enough B-cells for an intact immune system; for 3 years, every 28 days he was hooked up to an IV pump receiving IMMUNOGLOBULIN infusions at the hospital; each lasting up to 7 hours.

    Several of David’s vital organs have been affected as the result of his employment at the AQ laboratory; respiratory, lungs, heart, liver, spleen and GI tract.

    Denied by AQ as being the result of David’s workplace illness and disease were nineteen (19 ) fungus and bacteria that have been identified in David’s blood, sputum and/or nose cultures and/or lab results showing levels of antibodies as a result of exposure; ranging from positive to HIGH POSITIVE. ALL of these fungus and bacteria are linked to AQ’s products, patents and/or other companies patents that the scientists at AQ are listed as inventors.

    This is David’s medical from 1995-1998; seven ( 7 ) pages total, 1 page is a Confidential Health Information Form. This is his medical costs after working for AQ beginning 1999 through 2005 with a cost of over $333,000, mostly paid by medicare and none by AQ’s workers comp carrier. I stopped calculating after 2005 although to this day he is still sick and has mucous of every shade of the rainbow coming from his nose. That is, when he can get it out.

    As David’s mother, I swear to you; he has never been sick like this before he went to work at AQ. He had seasonal allergies, normal colds and flu and he did have a hernia surgery at the age of 6 because of a car accident.

    California has to stop protecting businesses and start protecting it’s workers.

    Thank you,
    Sandi Trend

    cc: file

    attachments: Three ( 3 ) photo’s

    1) David Bell medical prior to working at AQ; 3 years (1995-1998)
    (7 pages ; (1 page is a Confidential Health Information Form) and
    comparison to David Bell Medical billings after working at AQ; (1999-2005)

    2) David Bell medical billings after working at AQ (1999-2005)

    3) Comparison of David Bell medical prior to working at AQ; 3 years (1995-1998) and David Bell medical billings after working at AQ (1999- 2005)

  6. Donna Bird says:

    we have had people dropping dead like crazy here in nz we no it was the poison they sprayed us with they also released wasps and orange legged hover fly’s and the environment is paying and so are we bio teck needs to be shut down it maybe already to late the trogen horse the vector has already left the gate.


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