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Singer: Killing trees to save water

Strawberry guava (Photo courtesy of Sydney Singer)

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Sydney Ross Singer | Medical Anthropologist, Biologist, Author

As Hawaii residents struggle to feed their families, the governor of Hawaii has announced a new $110 million war on invasive species, spending $11 million per year to weed the forests of “undesirable” plants and animals, including food resources, over the next ten years.

The alleged excuse for this war is to protect our water resources. According to one study at UH, the nonnative strawberry guava tree uses 27 percent more water than native ohia, although strangely not mentioned is that strawberry guava is highly drought resistant, making it suitable for our increasingly drought prone islands. Nevertheless, selling off of the fear of water loss, it is now being stated that all nonnative plants consume more water than native plants.

It may not be logical or scientific. But it is the best public relations that the people promoting this war could come up with, and the governor bought it.

According to Gov. Neil Abercrombie in a speech at a meeting of the Society of American Foresters, as quoted by The Associated Press, “This is going to go statewide, island by island. We’re going to be relentless,” he said. “This is going to be our war. This is going to be our focus. We’re going to be relentless. We’re not going to stop until it’s done.”

Of course, the job will never be “done”. As any gardener knows, weeding never ends. If we are turning our “wild” places into native botanical gardens, then they are no longer “wild”, and our work will never end. But it does mean job security for the pest control community.

However, this war on our forests won’t be easy. Despite government war plans, the forests are evolving according to Nature’s plan, reacting to climate change, land development, and introduced species by allowing the fittest to survive. What we see in our forests today is different from what was there decades or centuries ago. There has been change. Introduced species are in our current forests because current conditions favor them.

Unfortunately, the forest managers have different values than Nature. They want to kill the species that Nature is nurturing.

History has shown, however, that habitat restoration efforts are notorious for failing to achieve their goals, and for creating new problems in their wake. Invasive species eradication and control efforts are coming under increased criticism by scientists and scholars around the world.

And as a result of climate change, you can’t know whether the native species that are being protected will survive into the future. Native species may be doomed by nature despite all our efforts. Introduced species that are thriving may be tomorrow’s valuable species. Isn’t it better to have forests that are healthy, than sick native forests?

This war will also harm private property owners who enjoy some of the species that are being attacked as “invasive”. The main target is the ornamental fruit tree, strawberry guava, whose hardwood is valuable and whose fruit is considered a superfood.

This species, introduced to Hawaii in the early 1800’s and broadly distributed and enjoyed throughout the islands, is targeted by the government for infestation by alien scale bugs that will gall the leaves and sicken, if not kill, the trees, leaving hundreds of thousands of acres of dead and disease trees in our forests and on private property. The government may have to reimburse property owners for damages, adding to the state’s unsustainable financial liabilities.

But is this all about water, or is this also about food? After all, this war is targeting wild plants and animals that serve as food.

Of course, introduced fruit trees, such as strawberry guava, will use more water than non-fruiting native trees. But there is more to trees than just how much water they consume. All trees provide important environmental services. Fruit trees also feed wildlife and people, which native species do not.

Unfortunately, wildlife, such as pigs, deer, goats, sheep are also on the hit list. In the past they were introduced for food, hunting, and weed control. But now, they are maligned as “invasive” pests, digging mud holes and eating grass and shoots, and some of these shoots could be native plants. This, we are told, is damaging our water supply.

Naturally, there will be those who profit from this war, especially those who produce the chemical arsenal that will be used. Agricultural interests may also benefit from the destruction of our wild foods, since wild food are free.

Clearly, there are lots of questions that need answering:

* Even if we save the weak native species in the forests, will they survive climate change? Species traditionally found in an area may no longer be able to survive the climate changes in that area. (We would be attempting to save the weak species while destroying the strong ones.)

* Which species should be removed from the forests? Who will decide on what species are “undesirable”?

* What methods will be used? How many tons of poisons will be sprayed on our watershed?

* Will private property and non-target species be damaged from biocontrol introductions?

* Will there be increased run-off and erosion as our forests are denuded of “weeds” which, in some places, are the dominant species?

* What species will be planted for replacement, and how can we be sure they will survive better than those removed?

* Since most restoration projects fail, why will this one succeed?

* What will happen to wildlife, native and exotic, that currently relies on these (nonnative) food resources? How will this affect hunters and gatherers and others who enjoy this wildlife?

* Are there better ways to manage these nonnative natural resources than to waste them? Couldn’t this $110 million be used to create a sustainable industry that harvests and utilizes these thrifty, abundant, and free natural resources?

Hopefully, the government will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this war plan, including discussions of alternatives. Doing a forest “makeover” will have significant impacts.

The governor should also ask himself why, when residents are suffering from financial meltdown, foreclosures, and high food prices, he wants to spend $110,000,000 to kill “weeds” and destroy our wild food resources.

Government trespass: The ‘taking’ of your strawberry guava

Despite widespread public opposition (with over 5,000 petition signatures and street protests), a resolution from the Hawaii County Council banning the release of this insect, and a need for free, wild food, the state government has decided to release the scale insect to attack every strawberry guava tree in Hawaii.

If you own property with strawberry guava, you may be eligible for compensation for damages to your trees from the scale insect. This invasive insect pest will attack your trees growing in your backyard, damaging your private property. These ornamental fruit trees if severely damaged or destroyed could be worth thousands of dollars each.

According to the Hawaii Constitution, Article 1, Section 20, “Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation.” The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states,“…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The state should be setting up a compensation fund. Instead, they are telling us our strawberry guava has no value because it is a weed in the forests. But our backyards are important environments, too.

Additionally, the scale bug has no predators in Hawaii, and some residential areas, especially in East Hawaii, have large amounts of waiawi that will be infested. Each leaf is expected to have many galls, each with a female inside releasing eggs and crawling nymphs into the air. There could be trillions of these particles floating around, blowing with the wind, and landing on people and pets.

We will see if there is an increase in asthma, skin irritations, eye irritations, or allergies as a result of contact with these chitinous particles.

It would be wise to first release the insects on a small island before releasing them on the Big Island. While the insects have been studied in laboratories, their behavior when released in the wild on a large scale is unknown, and this is what disturbs the opponents of this project. They could attack other trees or crops.

Why not first test it on a smaller scale and see if the insect gets quickly out of control, as some fear. It would be easier to stop the experiment if done on a smaller island than on the Big Island, which also has most of the state’s agriculture.

To find out more and to get on a list for a potential lawsuit for damages, email or visit

(Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist, director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease, and co-author of the numerous groundbreaking books exposing the cultural/lifestyle causes of disease. He works with his wife and assistant, Soma Grismaijer, and offers a do-it-yourself lifestyle research website,

5 Responses to “Singer: Killing trees to save water”

  1. Zach J. says:

    Aloha, This response is written as a personal opinion to your letter about the control of strawberry guava in Hawaii. Strawberry Guava is bad for the Hawaiian Ecosystem PERIOD!!! Yes as proven by that “one UH study at UH” strawberry guava does use more water than native forests, whats not mentioned in your rant is that in thickets of strawberry guava there is generally very little to no ground cover on the soil. This problem leads to massive soil runoff compared to our “weak” native forests which have and will continue to have balanced ecosystems as long as we protect them. Psidium Cattleianium also harbors more invasive species than native forests do! Yes strawberry guava does provide great habitat for Pigs and other ungulates, but you must remember that these are also invasive species that have and continue to damage native forests at alarming rates in turn spreading more invasive plant species further into our native forests, creating habitat for mosquitoes that are capable of carrying avian malaria and dengue fever, and causing massive amounts of erosion in our streams and rivers. All of these concerns have been addressed in MULTIPLE scholarly papers subject to peer review and editing. As a “Medical Anthropologist, and Biologists” you should accept the literature of science as fact and realize that yes Strawberry guava is bad for Hawaii’s ecosystem. Yes, it may be a great plant, a superfood even. If you truly believe this than I urge you to move to South America and enjoy it there. Aloha!

  2. Mgragg says:

    Also think about the numerous animal and bird species that are critically endangered. The loss of habitat due to many factors including the proliferation of invasive plant species has played a devestating role.

  3. nani km pogline says:

    The strawberry guava and the pigs have been in Hawaii for generations. The “native only” people act like they just got here, and the need to eradicate them is suddenly urgent. The native forest has lived with them for a long time.The native species will suffer from the loss of the non-natives. The native birds feed in the strawberry guava forests. The blossom is the same as the ohia. The native birds used the banana poka as a food source,and the bio-control destruction of the banana poka hurt the population of native birds. The pigs till and fertilize the soil for the koa forest. After they were eradicated from a forest on Haleakala, the koa trees declined. Even the most “educated” people are not qualified to play God.

  4. No Sympathy says:

    From Wikipedia: Superfood is a term used by various people in a wide variety of manners and contexts. … The term is not in common use by dieticians and nutritional scientists, many of whom dispute the claims made that consuming particular foodstuffs can have the health benefits often claimed by boosters of particular foods or categories of food. There is no legal definition of the term and it has been alleged that this has led to it being misleadingly used as a marketing tool.

  5. vet2640 says:

    Why focus on strawberry guava, other plants are worse, African Tulip, Miconia,”spelling?”, gun-powder trees, Gorse, etc., etc.. I remember eating strawberry guava as a child, personally I prefer the yellow one, much sweeter.


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