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Case Introduces Measures to Combat Invasive Species in Hawai‘i

Bill would require inspection of all cargo and baggage before arrival in the Islands

Congressman Ed Case (HI-01) today introduced a bill to require that all baggage and cargo transporting into the State of Hawai‘i by air or sea be inspected for invasive species and high-risk agricultural materials.

Case’s colleague, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), co-introduced the measure, entitled the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Protection Act .

“We must act now because invasive species pose an especially grave and accelerating threat to Hawai‘i ,” said Case. “Isolated Hawai‘i has one of the highest numbers and rate of endemic species anywhere and invasive species have wreaked havoc on our natural environment.

Case continued: “In the last 200 years, 28 bird, 72 snail, 74 insect and 97 plant species have gone extinct in large part because of invasives. Since 2005 alone, 195 new invasive species have been introduced, and they have triggered not only widespread environmental but economic damage as well.

“Leading countries have required strict invasive prevention measures. Even the continental United States requires inspections of goods from Hawai‘i to prevent the introduction of species that may damage mainland crops.”

“This bill is important to help protect Hawai‘i’s ecosystem which is critical in so many ways — its beauty brings visitors from across the world, its unique nature is reflected in the rich cultural heritage of our Native Hawaiian community, and its abundance is vital to our agricultural economy,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “This bill will help preserve Hawai‘i’s unique beauty and bounty for our residents and visitors alike.”

Case explained that his measure would simply require the same inspection protocol for goods coming to Hawai‘i that is currently imposed when leaving the islands.

“This is the protocol that is followed by leading invasive prevention countries overseas – and if it’s good for the rest of the country and world, it’s good for Hawai‘i,” said Case.

Case said the cost of inspections would be paid for from increases in the current agriculture quarantine inspection fee.

“Protecting Hawai‘i’s agriculture and environment from invasive species that may be transported to our state is a monumental task,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairperson of the Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture. “We appreciate the assistance of the U.S. Congress and our federal partners in helping to increase our biosecurity.”

Case pointed out that Hawai‘i’s unique circumstances also have given rise to one of our nation’s most diverse and productive agricultural communities. “With a year-round growing cycle, our crops have ranged throughout our history from the highest quality sugar and pineapple and cattle to tropical specialty crops like fruit and cut flowers in the highest demand worldwide,” said Case.

“Yet it is exactly because these crops like our natural resources have adapted to Hawai‘i’s uniqueness that they are the most susceptible to devastation from external species against which they have no natural defenses.

Invasive species have drastically impacted agriculture in Hawai‘i, threatening some of the island’s most valuable crops in the state’s third-largest industry.

Case pointed to two examples of the destruction brought on by invasives:

  • The coffee berry borer, which was discovered in Kona in 2010, now infects all of the coffee growing islands in Hawai‘i, except Kaua‘i. The coffee berry borer can cause yield losses of between 30 and 35 percent and affects the quality of the coffee beans, directly impacting the income of growers. Our failure to prevent coffee leaf rust from entering Hawai‘i could leave one of Hawai‘i’s most iconic industries devastated.
  • Hawai‘i’s third most valuable crop, the macadamia nut, is under threat from the macadamia felted coccid. Macadamia felted coccid has been found in all of Hawai‘i Island’s macadamia growing regions. The felted coccid reduces macadamia tree output by draining nutrients from the tree. Invasive species coupled with increased rain led to a 22 percent decline in the macadamia nut harvest this year compared to last year.

“Yet despite these incontrovertible and growing impacts of external species on Hawaii’s natural resources and economy, existing federal law leaves Hawai‘i largely defenseless against increasingly destructive invasives,” said Case. “Imports by air and sea, the only means of in-bound transportation to our island state, lack any effective regulation to screen out invasives.

“This is despite a fairly robust screening of exports from Hawai‘i to the Continental United States to screen out invasives from Hawai‘i viewed as harmful to mainland agriculture - invasives that, ironically, were invasives into Hawai‘i to start with,” said Case.