East Hawaii News

Emergency Quarantine Measure Taken Against Ohia Wilt

August 26, 2015, 8:31 AM HST
* Updated August 26, 8:34 AM
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An emergency quarantine measure has been set in place to combat the fight against Ohia Wilt on the Big Island. Ohia plants and plant parts are now under interim rules imposing a quarantine on intrastate movement of the species. The Hawai’i Board of Agriculture approved the rule, which includes flowers, leaves, seeds, stems, twigs, cuttings, untreated wood, logs, mulch greenwaste, and frass from boring beetles on Tuesday.

The interim rule will be in effect for one year, as the issue is combated.

Rapid Ohia death, or Ohia Wilt, was first noted in Puna in 2010. Four years later, the fungus was identified as Ceratocystis fimbriata by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Daniel K. Inouye Agricultural Research Service. During the same year as it’s identification, researchers estimated that the disease covered about 6,000 acres of Ohia, spanning from Kalapana to Hilo. The disease has caused a mortality rate of more than 50 percent. Currently, it is estimated that more than 15,000 acres are in danger.

The disease has not been found on other islands, and officials say that the way the disease entered the state or where it came from is unknown.

“We don’t have all the answers about how the disease is transmitted,” said Scott Enright, Chairperson of the Hawai’i Board of Agriculture. “However, the urgency to stop its spread is very clear. Ohia makes up 50 percent of our native forests and watershed – resources that we just cannot risk losing.”

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Despite the unclear answers regarding the introduction or origins of the disease, researchers believe the fungus enters the plants through wounds. Once infected, the crowns of the ohia turn yellow and brown within days to weeks, and death follows shortly after. Dark, almost black staining in the sapwood and outer margins of the trucks can also be observed in affected plants.

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In addition to the restriction of the movement of plants and plant parts, the interim rules will also restrict the movement of soil from the Big Island beginning in January 2016.

Local nurseries have expressed concern over the restriction, noting that a restriction of soil from the Big Island could hurt agricultural businesses. Department of Agriculture officials say the delay is necessary to conduct further research on whether or not soil is part of the disease transmission process. During the delay, officials will test and develop protocols and treatment option for soil.

Those who do not follow the interim rules will be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $10,000. An individual or organization who commits a second offense within five years could be fined up to $25,000.

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Permits may be issued by the HDOA to transport restricted items.

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