State urged to make ohia quarantine permanent

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Taking one step closer to a permanent quarantine on transport of ohia plants from the Big Island, state Department of Agriculture officials concluded a series of public hearings Wednesday night.

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Taking one step closer to a permanent quarantine on transport of ohia plants from the Big Island, state Department of Agriculture officials concluded a series of public hearings Wednesday night.

A temporary emergency quarantine on transport has been in place since last August, prompted by the spread of rapid ohia death around Hawaii Island. The disease is caused by a strain of the fungus Ceratocystis fimbriata and has affected more than 38,000 acres here, according to aerial mapping by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

So far, however, rapid ohia death has not spread to any other islands, a fact testifiers attributed to the emergency quarantine.

The quarantine does not completely ban shipment of ohia wood or plant parts, but requires that any ohia transported must be tested for Ceratocystis fimbriata and properly permitted.

Logs take three to four weeks to be sampled and tested, said Lance Sakaino, acting plant quarantine specialist for the DOA. Soil takes slightly less time.

“I haven’t had any negative responses so far about the rule and how this is working,” Sakaino said about the hearing process.

Nine people presented testimony during the Hilo meeting, the biggest turnout of any of the hearings, which were hosted on Kauai, Maui and Oahu before a stop in Kailua-Kona.

Written testimony also is being collected.

“This rule represents to me the really excellent commitment (by the state),” said Big Island Invasive Species Committee project manager Springer Kaye during her testimony.

“There are so many great teams working around the clock to try to stop it,” said BIISC communications director Franny Kinslow Brewer. “Taking the risk of (rapid ohia death) getting to another island — for me, it’s the fear that there’s going to be a dilution of resources. If we’re chasing it … that really takes away from the resources that can go here to containing it, to researching it.”

Last week, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz announced the release of additional federal funding to combat the disease. State and county resources also have been allocated to further research.

Two pathologists are expected to arrive on-island to bolster those efforts next month, both working under Dr. Lisa Keith of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center.

“There are more resources coming in to support the work,” said Flint Hughes, research ecologist with the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry. “We’re just going to make the most of it.”

Those in attendance thanked the DOA for its proactive measures.

“We have had a number of pest species that have … incubated on the Big Island,” said Jon Price, a University of Hawaii at Hilo professor (Price said he spoke only on his own behalf).

Jonathan Ho, acting branch manager for the DOA plant quarantine division, said he expects the state Board of Agriculture to make a decision on the quarantine rule at its next meeting later this month. From there, the rule will go to Gov. David Ige’s office for approval.

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“It’s probably something that would benefit people on the other islands; the irony is, they don’t understand the scope of the problem,” Price said in his comments. “People on other islands don’t live among ohia like they do here.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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