Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Working together to fight invasive species and achieve sustainable agriculture

By Representative Clift Tsuji, Chair, House Committee on Agriculture

The Advertiser's recent account (1/28/09) of the budget crisis and its potential impact on our fight against invasive species correctly underscores the need to remain vigilant against introduced pests, even as our economy continues to nosedive. However, in focusing solely on the Department of Land and Natural Resource's (DLNR) eradication and control efforts, the article unfairly glosses over much of what both lawmakers and officials from the Department of Agriculture have been doing to address the problem on their respective ends.

It also overlooks the dedicated efforts of our congressional leaders, who have been hard at work trying to fight for our state's right to inspect foreign shipments while encouraging federal agencies to rethink policies aimed only at protecting the continental U.S. Defending our islands from invasive species requires us to think and act as one, and with the coordinated efforts of federal, state, and county officials working hand-in-hand with our local communities, this can and must be done.

Here is an example. Just last year, lawmakers passed Act 236, which establishes an innovative and comprehensive Biosecurity Program that makes Hawaii the nation's leader in the prevention of unwanted pests. Apart from establishing joint-use inspection facilities at our state's ports-of-entry for enhanced screening and prevention efforts, the program also lays a foundational framework within which creative, community-driven ideas can be implemented. In short, the Biosecurity Law will enable DLNR and DOA to work with, rather than against, each other in a coordinated fashion to eradicate, control, reduce, and suppress incipient and established pest populations.

With this foundation in place, I introduced a bill this session that seeks to secure funding for the program's implementation by imposing cargo inspection fees for quarantine and eradication efforts. The upfront costs associated with bringing the Biosecurity Program online are essential if we are to create a more efficient and streamlined infrastructure to deal with the high volume of imported cargo that must be painstakingly inspected for unwanted pests.

These investments are costly, to be sure, and require all of us to make sacrifices in the end. But even in this climate of budget shortfalls, I would suggest that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure if we are to "go green," or if we hope to "buy fresh, buy local." Simply put, we cannot develop a sustainable agriculture industry if parasitic varroa mites infect our honey bees, thus compromising their ability to pollinate farm crops.

We cannot have a thriving and robust tourism industry if aggressive red imported fire ants invade our parks, golf courses, and beaches, attacking visitors and residents alike with their venomous sting.

And we cannot expect to have a reliable energy source if opportunistic brown tree snakes inadvertently short-circuit our power lines on a regular basis causing island-wide blackouts, as is the case in Guam.

Everyone is a stakeholder in this issue. The invasive species problem affects every individual on every island, in every neighborhood, and in every sector of the economy. When it comes to invasive species, we cannot afford to pit department against department, appropriating funds for one program at the expense of another. Instead, these times of scarcity and economic uncertainty demand from us a commitment to work together to prioritize that which distinguishes Hawaii from the rest of the world and makes our islands unique and so appealing -- our environment.

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