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HVNP Mitigates Risk to Park Ecosystem as Emergency Evacuation Route is Completed

June 8, 2018, 2:26 PM HST
* Updated June 8, 3:36 PM
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Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park will mitigate the risk of invasive species inside the park in the event that Highway 130 becomes impassable and Chain of Craters-Kalapana Road is used as an emergency evacuation route.

There currently are several cracks in Highway 130 covered by steel plates.

Highway 130 heading towards Kalapana from a moving car on June 1, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

The Hawai‘i Department of Transportation is closely monitoring conditions.

Highway 130 is now the only way in and out of parts of lower Puna, from MacKenzie State Recreation Area to Kalapana up to Pāhoa.

HDOT is committed to keeping Highway 130 open for as long as possible, but Chain of Craters- Kalapana Road is ready in case the highway is further impacted by the eruptions in the Lower East Rift Zone.

Hawai‘i Department of Transportation contracted Goodfellow Brothers to remove the 2016, 61G lava flow from Chain of Craters Road to prepare the road for an emergency evacuation route in case Highway 130 becomes impassable. Photo taken June 1, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

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The Chain of Craters-Kalapana Road was rebuilt in 2014, when a lava flow from Puʻu ʻŌʻō threatened Pāhoa Town.

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In 2016, the 61g flow from Puʻu ʻŌʻō covered a .7-mile-long section of the road. The 61g flow was bulldozed, crushed and used to grade the road last week.

HVNP Superintendent Cindy Orlando confirmed the Chain of Craters-Kalapana emergency route will still be used for an evacuation during the park closure.

HVNP has been closed since early May when earthquakes and eruptions at the summit of Kīlauea intensified, making the park unsafe for visitors and workers. Today, June 8, 2018, is day 29 of the park closure.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Ranger David Benitez checking vehicles for the invasive little red fire ant at the National Park and Hawaii County Boundary on Chain of Craters Road, June 1, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

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“Currently, all of Chain of Craters Road is passable in the park,” explained Orlando, “although there are some cracks on its surface. The park will escort the evacuees and their vehicles in and out of the park. There will be a marked National Park Service vehicle leading residents out and another NPS vehicle at the end of procession.”

Like in 2014, there is concern about the protection of the endangered nēnē goose and the introduction of invasive species to the park eco-system, particularly the little fire ant, coqui frogs and Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD).

“We will not inspect for little fire ants during an evacuation,” explained National Park Ecologist David Benitez.

He said unless vehicles break down, the park will keep vehicles moving, which reduces the possibility for invasive species to affect the area.

“We don’t have little fire ants in the park and we don’t want them,” stated Jessica Ferracane, HVNP public affairs officer. “They’re really bad for native species, especially the nēnē.”

Additional measures to protect the endemic geese are speed bumps along the route and signage to drive slow and to watch for nēnē.

“Luckily right now, it’s not their nesting season, so that’s good,” explained Ferracane. “Some birds are molting, which means they could be flightless as their new feathers come in, so that is a little bit of a concern.”

Park Ranger David Benitez demonstrates the first step in preventing the spreading of Rapid Ohia Death in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is to brush shoes and boots. June 1, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

After brushing, the soles are sprayed with rubbing alcohol to prevent the spread of Rapid Ohia Death in the National Park. June 1, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

HVNP is also working with park partners and ramping up monitoring and outreach efforts to protect native ecosystems in the park, explained Benitez.

The park is working with Big Island Invasive Species Council and USGS Pacific Islands Ecosystems Research Center in identifying new pest species that could threaten native species in the park in case of evacuation. The new possible threats include guinea pigs, ferrets, rabbits, cats and other species people keep as pets.

“We are intensively surveying the evacuation route and are also exploring new technologies for pre- and post-evacuation animal surveys,” explained Benitez. “These include thermal imaging, canine sniffers and nighttime spotlight surveys.”

Jessica Ferricane discusses invasive species mitigations with Hawai‘i Department of Transportation Officials and reporters before the media tour of the emergency evacuation route via Chain of Craters Road on June 1, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

For the coqui frogs, there are visual checks looking for mud and debris in cracks and crevasses to make sure there are no eggs or frogs.

In addition to the fire ants and coquis, the NPS is concerned about the spreading of Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa  Death (ROD).

Benitez is also the park’s ROD specialist.

He said there are about 40 trees within the park that have ROD, with the area with greatest concentration in Kahuku. He said there are a small number of trees with ROD within the main section of the national park.

To prevent the possibility of spreading ROD spores, sanitize boots and vehicle wheels. First, brush off debris and then spray them with rubbing alcohol.

The NPS will also post signs about ROD and is working to educate the public.

The park does not have the resources to sanitize everyone who enters the park or uses the evacuation route—especially not during a volcanic eruption.

Benitez shared that because the national park’s mission is to protect the ecosystems and ‘ōhiʻa are among the first species that grow, “we really want to protect the natural resources from day one from ROD and other invasive pests, which are the greatest threat to the parks natural and cultural resources.”

An endangered nēnē near an ‘ōhi‘a tree at Mauna Ulu. Photo courtesy of Janice Wei.

Ferracane pointed out there is a young ‘ōhiʻa tree growing in the 2016 61g flow.

“Wouldn’t it be terrible if we brought in some ROD on our muddy boots?” she said.

“We want the community to feel supported in this difficult time, but we are also asking for everyone’s help to prevent the introduction of harmful pest species into this fragile ecosystem and encourage everyone to take measures to prevent the release of these species in the park,” said Benitez.

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