Measure provides added funding to fight rapid ohia death

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State lawmakers passed a bill providing additional funds to combat rapid ohia death.

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State lawmakers passed a bill providing additional funds to combat rapid ohia death.

But they are not ready to write the check just yet.

Rep. Richard Onishi, who introduced House Bill 2675, said the next step will involve representatives in both chambers’ budget committees conferencing to work out how much money will be contributed. The bill also will require Gov. David Ige’s signature.

“Obviously, I’m lobbying strong for the passage of the bill and the funding,” said Onishi, who sits on the House Finance Committee.

The bill initially proposed chipping in $325,000 for research into the disease, which has infected more than 35,000 acres of ohia forest on the Big Island.

Onishi, D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano, said the bill was combined with other rapid ohia death measures, so the starting point for the budget talks could be as much as $650,000.

The final version of the bill passed by both chambers leaves the amount blank. Onishi said that’s part of the normal process.

The disease, caused by a fungus, was first reported in 2010 and since has become a major threat to the island’s native forests and the watersheds that depend on them.

Research into the disease and how to prevent its spread is ongoing at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center and other institutions.

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According to the state Department of Agriculture, the disease kills between 50 percent and 90 percent of ohia trees in infected areas. Infected trees die within a matter of a few days or weeks.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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