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Hawaii Observes National Invasive Species Awareness Week

Posted March 5, 2013, 02:45 PM HST Updated March 5, 2013, 05:05 PM HST
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Little fire ants can deliver a painful sting and welts that can last for weeks. HISC photo.

This is National Invasive Species Awareness Week, which addresses a topic that presents a major challenge to Hawaii.

From little fire ants, to stinging nettle caterpillars, to as-yet un-introduced species such as the brown tree snake, invasive species affect virtually all of the state’s residents.

Hawaii is particularly vulnerable because its species evolved without many of the defense mechanisms found elsewhere, and its role as a transportation hub provides ample opportunities for accidental invasions.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Monday marked the beginning of the effort running from March 4-10 with a proclamation issued in the Capitol Auditorium.

This is the first year Hawaii is participating.

“It is important for Hawaii to be engaged at a national level so that we can partner with federal agencies and other states to safeguard Hawaii’s biosecurity,” said Russell Kokubun, head of the state Department of Agriculture and co-chairman of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council.

Officials in the past have estimated that on average at least one invasive species gets established in Hawaii weekly. They impact residents, agriculture, natural resources , cultural heritage and, as Abercrombie noted, our very way of life.

The governor is ratcheting up the battle against invasive species by encouraging the state’s various departments to assist HISC’s efforts.

Also this week, a variety of projects are planned, including a “forest work day” from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday to remove weeds and plant native species at Keauohana in lower Puna.

Organized by the Lowland Wet Forest Working Group, participants can park at the intersection of Highway 130 and Upper Puna Road near the Black Sands subdivision to access the trailhead across the highway.

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The council this week also held the first annual Hawaii Invasive Species Council Awards to honor those who have gone above and beyond in the ongoing battle.

Sen. Malama Solomon presents the award to Mary Begier of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy photo.

Sen. Malama Solomon presents the award to Mary Begier of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy photo.

The winners include Mary Begier and the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce for the “Community Hero” category.

They were recognized for their assistance to the Office of Mauna Kea Management to reach out to segments of the community not previously engaged in invasive species control.

Their efforts in 2012 included more than 800 volunteer hours spent collecting hundreds of bags of invasive species pulled from Mauna Kea, helping to restore native forest and habitat for the endangered palila bird.

The Hawaii County MVP award went to the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council for its assistance in the development and release of the Madagascar moth to control fireweed.

Honorable mentions in that category went to Malama O Puna and Tim Tunison.

The former is a grassroots environmental non-profit group headed by Rene Siracusa which has taken on infestations of mangrove, miconia, clidemia, pickleweed and other species difficult to control. The group last year also coordinated the seventh annual Puna Sustainability Expo.

Tunison is a retired Hawaii Volcanoes National Park biologist who remains active in the invasive species arena, organizing a coqui frog patrol in Volcano and creating a manual for the mechanical and chemical control of invasive plants on Kilauea volcano.

Others with Big Island ties recognized included University of Hawaii entomologist Arnold Hara and the Pohakuloa Training Area Natural Resources Office.

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