Combating Invasive Species A Priority For UH Faculty - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Karla Hayashi

Karla Hayashi is the faculty director of Kilohana: The Academic Success Center at the University of Hawaii Hilo and serves as vice president of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly board of directors and chair of the UHPA negotiating team/collective bargaining committee.

The brown tree snake, the little fire ant, miconia and more threaten the biosecurity of Hawaii.

Invasive species have stealthily entered our islands and wreaked havoc on our environment and economy. It’s a serious problem that threatens native plants, animals, and locally grown crops. Their impact threatens our state’s food security and resilience.

Combating the increasing number of invasive species is a priority for UH faculty. Fortunately, UH faculty members are already engaged in research and activities addressing many of these threats.

However, they are hampered by ongoing inadequate state budget allocations which further erode our efforts to improve our state’s food security. Climate change will only exacerbate this funding problem by bringing even more invasive species to our shores.

Biosecurity experts testifying at a Jan. 26 legislative informational session noted that the prevention efforts for the brown tree snake, miconia, little fire ant, and red imported fire ant, as well as other initiatives in the state’s biosecurity plan, are estimated to cost $38 million.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture combined typically receive less than 2% of the state’s operating budget.

The takeaway from the session jointly held by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment and House Committees on Energy and Environmental Protection, Agriculture and Food Systems, and Land and Water: Hawaii urgently needs to invest in biosecurity.

A Honolulu Civil Beat article on this crucial issue aptly noted: “Take the University of Hawaii: It lost 70 positions over the course of the pandemic within the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. Many of those roles — research among them — inform strategies to increase biosecurity. It has since recovered 21 positions.”

A little fire ant worker. (HDOA)

Read the full article here. It is important to note a university-wide hiring freeze during the pandemic did not help this.

University of Hawaii Professional Assembly President David Duffy, a UH professor in the Botany Department and a graduate professor in zoology, ecology, evolution, and conservation biology, is well acquainted with tenuous funding for research. He directed the UH Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, now in the School of Life Sciences, for more than 20 years and helped to establish and manage the invasive species committees on all the islands, which serve as the first line of defense against newly invasive species.

Hawaii urgently needs to invest in biosecurity.

The Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit also helped found and manage the watershed partnerships on each island to ensure a safe drinking water supply for Hawaii residents and businesses. In collaboration with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Professor Duffy’s work also included nurturing the development of a Hawaiian Ant Lab, which provides expertise and research on preventing the establishment of little fire ants.

“All of these groups depend on soft money from the state, counties, and the federal government,” he said. “This makes it difficult to plan and sustain operations from year to year.”

The Hawaii Invasive Species Council, established 20 years ago by the University of Hawaii and the state departments of Land and Natural Resources, Agriculture, Health, Transportation and Business, Economic Development and Tourism, has designated February as Hawaii Invasive Species Awareness Month to highlight the myths about invasive species impacting our islands.

We should also designate this month to recognize and appreciate the shrinking army of UH faculty that has been on the frontlines to combat invasive species and trying to fortify our defenses with the limited staff they currently have. When we eat our papaya at breakfast, sip our Kona coffee, or proudly “buy local” at the farmer’s market, let’s thank our UH faculty biosecurity heroes.

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About the Author

Karla Hayashi

Karla Hayashi is the faculty director of Kilohana: The Academic Success Center at the University of Hawaii Hilo and serves as vice president of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly board of directors and chair of the UHPA negotiating team/collective bargaining committee.

Latest Comments (0)

ALL of us are severely impacted by invasive species every day. I could hardly sleep last night the coqui frogs were so loud with my windows closed....all the leaves are falling from our 4 avocados that literally feed our family every day, just when they are trying to flower (avocado lace bug) .....we gave up and cut down our 140 trees of 12 varieties of coffee, that were amazing....between the twig borer, CBB, and Rust all that spraying is not an option, and no more can grow cucumber and sometimes have a hard time with pumpkin.....pickle worm. My Ulu tree has abortive stress! What we are doing by not creating systems that will help keep out new invasives (thanks to globalization, etc.) is we are narrowing our community food system every year! I totally agree with Romona's comment below about New Zealand and Australia's protocols) and Just when we (the public) figured out that relocalizing our food system is a really really good idea, our most important crops are disappearing. Legislature: We must do better. Look again at the 100 action items of the Hawaii Biosecurity Plan and fund it! And we need our CTAHR positions back. What they do really matters to our communities.

nredfeather · 7 months ago

So well said! As someone who works in the front lines of natural resources conservation, I can attest that the lost positions at CTAHR over the last few years- especially on neighbor islands- have been keenly felt. The people in those positions were key partners on so many issues, and as they retired or moved on the positions were never refilled, leaving real gaps. Those positions supported many with expertise, capacity, and new research. I grow so tired of hearing decision makers in our state proudly crow about "food sustainability" and "supporting agriculture" when I've watched the infrastructure that growers, producers, and conservationists depend on grow shallower and more fragile each year, as funding decisions don't reflect the true needs. A County of Hawaii poll of agricultural producers on the Big Island found that over 90% of growers cited "pests and diseases" and/or "invasive species" as amongst the top 3 challenges to growing in Hawai'i. If the legislature is serious about supporting ag, they cannot skimp on providing the (human!) resources that are needed to keep up with the challenges of our changing world.

HollyB · 7 months ago

Thank-you for drawing attention to this. It's of urgent importance. Despite the large increase in (invasive species) combat funding, I hope our local situation is not a case of 'too little, to late.' Department of Agriculture and its affiliate agencies in Hawaii and the mainland might consider strategies applied by Australia & New Zealand to prevent the introduction of invasive species and uncover why their approach is so effective. We could all be the beneficiaries of positive change.

Ramona · 7 months ago

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