A large audience gathered at the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani on Tuesday, May 8, for the first-ever Neighbor Island meeting of the Hawai'i Invasive Species Council (HISC).
The council members in attendance were Sen. J. Kalani English, Sen. Clarence Nishihara, state Department of Agriculture Chair Russell Kokubun, U.S. Department of the Interior representative Loyal Merhoff, William Aila Jr. of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Carl Evensen of the University of Hawai'i, Gary Gill of the state Department of Health, and Ford Fuchigami of the state Department of Transportation.
Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa started the meeting with an address to the council that set a tone of urgency. While thanking HISC for coming to Maui, he also said that this Neighbor Island meeting was "about nine years late," and that "if we're going to be serious about trying to handle invasive species, there has to be a lot more money put into this area."
Maui Invasive Species Committee manager Tea Penniman presents HISC with an update on her group’s varied efforts against invasive species such as coqui frog, miconia, and pampas grass.
The mayor described the damage being done to the agricultural and tourism industries by species such as miconia, coqui frogs, fireweed and axis deer. He reminded the council of the supportive funds being contributed on the county level, and asked them to understand how much more was needed from the state and federal levels to achieve invasive species goals on Maui.
"One of my big concerns is that we tell the public that we're there, that we have rules and regulations that will protect them, but then we don't follow through because we don't have the manpower or the funding to do the job," said Mayor Arakawa.
Axis deer and the havoc they have wreaked upon many industries and stakeholders on Maui County were a main topic of discussion.
Warren Watanabe, representing the Maui's Axis Deer Working Group, updated HISC on his group's population management proposal, which they plan to submit for a funding request within the next six months.
"Our farmers and ranchers cannot take any more losses," said Watanabe. "In order for us to survive as an industry, we ask for your help."
Lori Buchanan of the Molokai Invasive Species Committee painted a grim picture of the overpopulation of axis deer on her island. "There is no action there--the deer are everywhere," she said. Because the deer are so widely utilized as a food source on Molokai, she warned that efforts to decrease their population might not receive public support. "I support zero-tolerance of any feral ungulate in a managed area, but total eradication on Molokai is impossible," said Buchanan.
Chair Russell Kokubun shared the concern that residents of Hawai'i Island may likewise mistakenly welcome the presence of invasive axis deer as a food source.
Buchanan, also the interim chair for the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, said, "If you're asking me to eradicate deer on the Big Island, I need help If you want to get rid of the deer, you've got to do it now, and don't fool around." She asked for economic support to obtain equipment and personnel to begin population management, including, perhaps, petitioning the state Department of Defense for assistance.
Teya Penniman, manager of the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC), presented a summary of her group's work. She outlined successes toward eradication of coqui frogs, pampas grass and miconia, and impressive management and enforcement coverage on Maui's conservation land. However, she continued, "State funding has plummeted since 2008."
While she echoed the sentiments of Mayor Arakawa, saying "The county has been hugely supportive," she also said "The support that we get from the state is definitely not adequate to do what we need to do." She ended by stressing the importance of interisland quarantine in order keep out the little fire ant and other destructive invasive species.
Mark White from the Nature Conservancy shared a perspective on Maui's watershed partnerships, applauding the work that's already been done to develop as many as 50,000 acres of zero-tolerance, ungulate-free areas on Maui. He reminded attendees that the already existing invasive species on Maui need just as much effort and attention as the species that are new or impending. He encouraged the HISC to focus some budgeting energy and resources on bio-control. "There may need to be difficult trade-offs" to address the highest priority issues, he said.
The HISC members had an opportunity to share with the attendees their priorities and goals for solicitation of funds for Fiscal Year 2013.
Sen. English brought up the well-received idea of approaching the tourism and hotel industry for collaboration, partnership and potential funds. "They get $71 million from the state per year--some of that should go toward invasive species efforts," he said.
Sen. Nishihara, who served as chair of the Hawai'i State Tourism Committee for two years, agreed: "With the increasing number of tourists coming to the island, we should bring them on board We can do more on our part to put pressure on the tourist industry to come to the table, because there is a large source of money that's available."
There was a strong tone of teamwork and support at the Maui-hosted HISC meeting. Much of the need expressed to the HISC was financal. More money from more sources is needed to fund current and proposed efforts. Although funding remains a challenge, optimism and mutual appreciation were strong.