Invasive Species Laws Will Allow Private Property Access

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Hawai‘i is the only state in the US for which visitors have to fill out an Agriculture Declaration Form.

This measure is one of the steps the state is undertaking to protect its ecosystem.

Hawai‘i has a long list of restricted produce as it attempts to keep destructive pests they often host from devastating the islands.

Palila. Courtesy photo

Any species that is harmful to the environment, economy and/or human health, and is not native to the islands is considered an invasive species. Currently, however, there is no regulatory list for invasive species even though invasive species are the primary cause for the extinction of around 300 species worldwide. With globalization, this problem is anticipated to escalate. In fact, New Zealand now has as many established alien plant species as it does native.

Islands in particular have suffered from large numbers of invaders. Globalization has resulted in the introduction of deer, goats, ants, coqui and miconia to our islands, to name a few. Axis deer are threatening a variety of native plants. Miconia is quickly spreading through our forests and starving other plants of lights and nutrients, as well as creating erosion issues due to their shallow root systems. Fire ants are causing loss of crops and injuring animals. In summary, since native species have yet to evolve to compete and coexist with these invaders, they may not survive without help.

Axis Deer_Wikimedia Commons, courtesy

Axis deer. PC: Wikimedia Commons

Conservation Efforts


Recently, new efforts have begun to prevent the spread of invasive species and improve conservation, such as training dogs to detect species such as invasive Rosy Wolfsnails, which deplete the populations of endangered Hawaiian tree snails.

In another conservation effort, six palila (a finch-billed endangered species of Hawaiian honeycreeper that now resides strictly on the mountains of Mauna Kea) were recently hatched at the San Diego Zoo and released into the Pu‘u Mali restoration area for observation. The birds’ diet of seeds, flowers and insects has been threatened due to grazing cattle and feral and mouflon sheep.

The Big Island has also recently reintroduced the ‘alalā, an endangered Hawaiian crow. In 2018 11 were introduced and now, a year later, have been joined by another ten.

‘Alalā. Courtesy photo

In November 2018, fire ants were found to have infested Hawai‘i Volcano National Park and the infestation grew due to an inability to manage the infestation during the government shutdown. However, the park is managing the issue now, holding closures once every six weeks with the goal of eradicating the population completely within two years.

KoaWood Ranch on the Big Island is also doing its part to allow koa wood to take back the forest. Although they do sell some products they make from the wood, they have no intention of harvesting on a commercial level. They are building fences to keep feral pigs from destroying the keiki koa and removing invasive species that are blocking the light.


Perhaps the most significant conservation effort in the works, the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council is in the process of defining “invasive species.” Once they do, HRS 194 will allow the council to delegate private property access to address concerns of invasive species.

Miconia. Courtesy photo

Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council

Joshua Atwood, Ph.D., Invasive Species coordinator of the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife/Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council, explained, ” Administrative rules are needed to describe how that authority would be used. This would help conservation efforts by increasing the likelihood of success during a response effort. It helps avoid a situation where an eradication effort fails because there was a single unresponsive property for which access was unavailable. We want to use this authority responsibly.”

“There are thousands of invasive species in Hawai‘i,” he said,” but we want to balance our need to control some invasive species with people’s right to privacy. So rather than having the authority to enter private property for any species that fits the definition of “invasive,” we plan to develop administrative rules that would contain a short list of invasive species that would qualify for private property access. They would be species that would be likely to be part of specific response efforts or eradication programs where having property access might mean the difference between failure and success. And, by putting the list of species into administrative rules, public input can be provided on how the rules work and what species go on the list.”

Little Fire Ants. Courtesy photo

For Fiscal Year 2019 the legislature appropriated $4,750,000 to the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council (HISC). After that, the resources working group reviewed 43 applications and approved 27 projects addressing, “interagency prevention, control, outreach and research needs.”


How does the legislature come up with this budget, you may ask.

Atwood informed Big Island Now that “The legislature provides funding for invasive species and biosecurity work in Hawai‘i through multiple strategies. The first is through funding departmental programs, like the Department of Agriculture’s inspection and quarantine programs, or the Department of Land and Natural Resource’s wildlife program. Another strategy is through supporting grant programs or interagency funding efforts, like the HISC. The legislature provides funds to the HISC to support research on new invasive species tools and strategies, and interagency projects that fill the gaps between regular departmental programs.”


While many believe in the noble causes that these funds go to, some believe extinction is a natural part of evolution—”a mechanism by which natural selection prunes the poorly adapted and allows the hardiest to flourish.”

A rare kahuli tree snail (Partulina physa) crawls on an ʻōhiʻa leaf. Once found throughout Hawai’i Island, its numbers have fallen dramatically over the past 50 years. Today the snail is found only on Kohala Mountain. (Photo © Nate Yuen)

To this, Atwood responded, “Extinction is not a part of evolution as a process. Evolution is the process of change in a given species over time, due to processes like natural selection. Extinction is the permanent disappearance of a species. In Hawai‘i, we have seen many extinctions, but they are not the result of natural selection or evolution. Extinctions are generally driven by factors like habitat loss, predation, disease or competition with invasive species.”

“Species come and go on our planet, but generally on very large timescales,” said Atwood. “The same can be said for the rate at which new species are introduced. Before humans arrived in Hawai‘i, the rate at which new species arrived (on the wind, water, or on bird wings) was one new species every 35,000 to 50,000 years, on average. Now there are estimates that on average, a new species arrives in Hawai‘i each day. The pace of extinctions has similarly increased due to human activity and the human-mediated movement of invasive species around the planet: where extinction was once a very rare event, it is now much more frequent. Conservation is important because it tries to slow the rapid pace at which our ecosystems are changing. Humans are the drivers of that change, but we can also be the force that prevents those changes from happening so rapidly that we lose our native species, our ability to grow our own food, or what we feel makes Hawai‘i special.”

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