U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) held a field hearing yesterday on Safeguarding Hawaii's Ecosystem and Agriculture Against Invasive Species at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture Plant Quarantine Office. Witnesses testified about efforts to preserve the state's economy and way of life by preventing the spread of invasive species.
"Hawaii's efforts to safeguard its ecosystem and agriculture date back to 1888, when King Kalākaua declared a quarantine on imported coffee to prevent the introduction of coffee rust, and other diseases," said Chairman Akaka. "Hawaii's efforts continue to this day, as harmful invasive species arrive daily at our state's ports of entry, often hidden in agricultural cargo or inside passenger bags. Invasive species already cost Hawaii hundreds of millions of dollars annually in lost agricultural revenue, property damage, and eradication programs. It is clear that focusing on prevention by improving agricultural inspections at our ports of entry is a cost-effective strategy."
Senators Akaka and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced the Safeguarding American Agriculture Act of 2011 on October 6, 2011. This bill would elevate the agriculture mission in Customs and Border Protection to match the magnitude of the challenge posed by invasive pests and disease.
Senator Akaka is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, within the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Governor Neil Abercrombie testified at the hearing.
"I am here to wholeheartedly support the improvement of prevention, management, and response systems for invasive species. We urge you to increase the effectiveness of federal resources as we invest state resources into a better prevention system that will stop invasive species problems from arising in the first place and save money in the long run," stated Governor Neil Abercrombie. "This should be our commitment to our future generations - to rebuild and improve the way our government, federal and state, serves its people, especially our children."
Senator Akaka's efforts are strongly supported by the rest of the Hawaii Congressional delegation.
"Our island ecosystem is a fragile one and invasive species continue to pose serious threats to our agriculture industry and our Native species. I have long supported federal initiatives targeting invasive species and have worked to fund programs to eradicate pests like the brown tree snake because I know the importance of maintaining our unique and beautiful environment for all future generations. We must work together, at all levels of government, to enhance agricultural inspections at all our ports of entry to ensure that harmful diseases and pests do not damage our environment and our economy," said Senator Daniel K. Inouye.
"Hawaii is so vulnerable to invasive species that it's vital that we remain diligent in our efforts to protect our island state from alien plant and animal life. Each time I visit Kona, it's impossible to miss the miles of invasive African fountain grass that overruns the lava rock along Queen Kaahumanu Highway. I'm concerned that the area has reached a point of no return. This example clearly illustrates why we must maintain federal programs such as the Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Program, which supports state and county agencies dedicated to preventing invasive species from entering our state. I thank Senator Akaka for holding this Senate subcommittee hearing that brings national attention to this critical issue for Hawaii," said Congresswoman Mazie Hirono.
"I would like to thank Senator Akaka for holding this important hearing in Honolulu and bringing attention to our state's invasive species problem," said Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, who could not attend the hearing but submitted a statement for the record from Washington, D.C. "Because of Hawaii's remote location and fragile ecosystem, fighting the major threat of foreign pests is a massive undertaking. In order to control the devastation caused by invasive species, I believe we must support initiatives like Senator Akaka's Safeguarding American Agriculture Act which focus on the ports of entry, specifically agricultural cargo. Hawaii's Congressional Delegation remains committed to preserving and protecting our beautiful state and quality of life."
Also testifying at the hearing were Representative Clifton K. Tsuji, Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture; Senator Clarence K. Nishihara, Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture; James J. Nakatani, Deputy Director of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture; Bruce W. Murley, Area Port Director, Customs and Border Protection; Vernon Harrington, State Plant Health Director, U.S. Department of Agriculture; and George Phocas, Resident-Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Interior.