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Invasive species council OKs $1.8M budget


The interagency Hawaii Invasive Species Council (HISC) has approved a $1.8 million annual budget for fiscal year 2013 to support statewide programs promoting invasive species prevention, control and outreach.

State Department of Agriculture Chairman Russell S. Kokubun, co-chair of HISC, joined Office of Planning Director Jesse Souki and Department of Health Deputy Director for the Environment Gary Gill in approving the annual budget at the council’s Aug. 3 meeting. Sen. Clarence Nishihara (District 18), chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, was also present to review the budget.

“Invasive species pose real threats to our agriculture, environment, economy and public health,” Kokubun said. “We need to make sure that we spend the available funds on programs that have the greatest impact on the most serious threats to our community.”

Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William J. Aila, Jr., also HISC co-chair, added: “Hawaii’s environment is the backbone of our visitor industry and way of life. The recipients of this year’s HISC funds are experts in assessing and managing environmental threats. We will continue to look for ways to support their critical efforts.”

Funding awarded for fiscal year 2013 will include support for:

* The Hawaii Ant Lab for research and response to infestations of aggressive fire ant species

* Research on biological control methods for the highly destructive plant species Miconia and Christmas berry

* A statewide coordinator to monitor for aquatic invasive species that may arrive in ballast water

* The island-based Invasive Species Committees (ISCs), which monitor and control a variety of harmful species

The ISCs were formally recognized earlier this year by Sen. Mike Gabbard (District 19) for their outstanding work across the state in responding to pests like Miconia, fire-prone fountain grass, coqui frogs, and mongoose.

The HISC also provided two awards this year relating to axis deer. The first was to the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, a partnership working with DLNR to eradicate axis deer from Hawaii Island. If incipient axis deer populations were to expand there, it would be extremely detrimental to the natural resources and economy of the island.

The second award was to the Maui Axis Deer Working Group, a collaboration of farmers, natural resource managers and staff from the County of Maui and DLNR, which has the goal of reducing the number of deer on Maui.

The funding from the HISC will provide a full-time coordinator to implement a population assessment on Maui and explore options for reducing the harmful impacts of axis deer on agriculture and human health, including collisions with automobiles.

Kenneth Yamamura, agricultural specialist for Maui County, estimates that axis deer have cost farmers, ranchers and resorts on Maui more than $1.6 million over the last two years in damage and control costs.

“We are trying to maintain the progress that our core programs have made in each county, while at the same time responding to new invasive species issues as they arise, such as mongoose on Kauai or axis deer on the Big Island,” said Dr. Joshua Atwood, coordinator for the HISC. “Unfortunately, the amount of funding needed to deal with the large number of invasive species problems across the state simply isn’t there.”

While the HISC received nearly $3 million in requests for funding this year, the estimated amount of total funding needed to achieve the organizational goals of this year’s applicants was more than $13 million annually.

The HISC was created in 2003, when the Hawaii State Legislature declared invasive species “the single greatest threat to Hawaii’s economy and natural environment and to the health and lifestyle of Hawaii’s people.”

Since 2009, however, a reduction in general fund appropriations has decreased the total funds available annually to the HISC from $4 million to $1.8 million. That number may decrease further, as a temporary authorization to receive funds for invasive species control from the Legacy Land Conservation Program expires after the current fiscal year.

“The Council members agree that more funds are needed to protect Hawaii from the impacts of invasive species. As an interagency initiative, the HISC seeks to fill gaps between agencies and respond to annual priorities, but with limited funding, it will become more difficult to get the job done,” Aila said.

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