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Schatz calls for tougher action against invasive beetle

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz on Thursday called for more federal help and immediate support in the Big Island’s battle against an invasive species of longhorn beetle.

In a letter to U.S Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Schatz requested “immediate intervention to manage, control and eradicate” the species, A. aesthetica, which is native to Australia and was first discovered in Hawaii six years ago.

Schatz said that current assistance from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center already has made a difference for Hawaii Island residents and farmers.

However, more science support is needed from the Institute for Pacific Island Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as the Pacific Island Ecosystem Research Center and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Additionally, Schatz said coordination between the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service will be critical.

“Finally, please act within existing rules and regulations to give a full expeditious review of the state of Hawaii’s application for funding from the USDA to address this emerging pest before it establishes and spreads further,” Schatz wrote.

“My job is to make sure our federal agencies are ready to work with and provide support to their state and local counterparts,” Schatz said in a follow-up email to the Tribune-Herald. “We need every resource available to stop the spread of invasive species.”

In his letter, Schatz said this species of beetle arrived in Hawaii in September 2013, but the potential impacts to U.S. agriculture and Hawaii’s environment are just now becoming clear.

Currently, the beetle has been found from Puna to Hilo, although its range might be greater.

Although it’s not a pest in its native Australia, Schatz said state Department of Agriculture scientists believe the larval beetle poses a threat to “trees of significant economic and cultural importance,” including various citrus, Queen sago palm, cacao, bread fruit and kukui.

The beetle larvae can cause extensive damage to trees by burrowing through the trunks, causing affected trees to die and collapse.

“Thus, the beetle poses a direct threat to the $3.85 billion/year citrus industry, Hawaii’s nascent cacao industry, and the kukui (the state tree) and breadfruit trees, which are revered in Hawaii for their importance to Native Hawaiians.”

Schatz said there is an alarming lack of scientific knowledge about the beetle, and efforts to prevent its spread in Hawaii and to the mainland are “suboptimal.”

“The threat to U.S. agriculture and Hawaii’s environment justifies immediate, strong intervention from the federal government in order to prevent harm to the U.S. economy and federally managed lands in Hawaii — especially while the threat of A. aesthetica is still confined to a fairly limited area on Hawaii Island,” he said. “Federal land managers should act in coordination with the state, county, and private landowners to implement the practices identified by researchers to contain, mitigate, and hopefully eradicate (the beetle).”

Darcy Oishi, biological control section chief at the state Department of Agriculture, said the department “certainly supports any effort helping us move forward with any invasive species issues.”

Schatz’s effort “dovetails with some of our needs in order to respond to what is happening on the Big Island in regards to this species.”

Oishi said more answers about the beetle are needed. What is unknown limits efforts to combat the pests.

According to Oishi, the beetles have not been found on any other island and seem to be largely concentrated in Puna.

“Within that area, we don’t know how prevalent it is,” he said. The department can only conduct visual surveys to evaluate the scope of the problem.

“… Unfortunately, we’re leading the world (as the) first place to get it as a pest,” Oishi said of the longhorn beetle. “With that comes a lot of issues and questions we need to be able to resolve, which we’ve been unable to do.”

Hopefully, Schatz’s letter “results in some change in action,” he said.

“In order for us to adequately protect Hawaii … a lot of the questions we have, we need to get answers to these things.”

As with all invasive species, Oishi said people who see something unusual should call the statewide pest hotline at 643-PEST.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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