Dozens of new bills aim to shore up biosecurity in Hawaii

  • An adult two-lined spittle bug. Both adult and nymph forms feed on plants by sucking out nutrients. (Photo: Big Island Invasive Species Committee)

A host of bills addressing invasive species and the state’s biosecurity are a part of this year’s legislative session, following a list of recommendations by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

In a report by the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife to the state Legislature in December, the division listed several unmet goals from 2019 that still need to be addressed to better combat invasive species. Those goals included more job positions at several DLNR biosecurity offices and the University of Hawaii, more funding for invasive species committees and research labs, and better enforcement of biosecurity import laws.

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The report also listed a raft of bills that failed to gain traction in 2019 that could be revisited in 2020. Of those 10 recommended measures, only three have been resurrected for this legislative session.

Two of those three bills would establish an “invasive species rapid response special fund,” which could request an invasive species emergency declaration from the governor and disburse funds to immediately take action against an invasive species determined to “pose a substantial threat to the agriculture, commerce, economy, environment, or public health of the state.”

The third of the recommended bills would provide a tax credit to property owners for trimming or removing invasive albizia trees from their properties.

Those three bills are just the tip of the iceberg for biosecurity measures proposed this year. There are at least 24 new bills introduced directly relating to invasive species or biosecurity, and dozens more carried over from last year’s session.

Most of the new measures request funding for new biosecurity-related job positions at DLNR or UH, or to support DLNR programs targeting specific invasive species. One new bill would fund an albizia prevention pilot project, two more would codify a list of best practices for addressing little fire ants, another two would fund programs that would attempt to mitigate infestations of two-lined spittlebugs, and three specifically target populations of axis deer on Maui.

Other bills introduced this year include a pair of bills authorizing the DLNR to work with the U.S. Coast Guard to provide stronger enforcement of vessel-cleaning standards to prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species. Another measure would establish a fee for biosecurity inspections of air freight.

One bill proposes turning an invasive species into an industry. House Bill 2015 would take invasive gorse — a shrub that has infested higher altitude pastures on Maunakea — and convert it into some sort of marketable product.

“There is initial research indicating gorse could be marketable in some way,” said Hilo Rep. Chris Todd, a co-introducer of HB 2015. “It could be used as cattle feed or burned for energy in some way.”

Whatever economic opportunities can be leveraged by harvesting gorse, Todd said the measure hopefully will allow the DLNR to partner with Native Hawaiian-owned businesses to sell the products.

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“It’s killing two birds with one stone,” Todd said. “We need to get rid of the gorse anyway, and most of it is on (Department of Hawaiian Home Lands) land. This way, the people who use that land can still benefit.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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