Bill would create Invasive Species Authority

  • Little fire ants are attracted to peanut butter. Placing some on a chopstick is a good way to collect ant samples for positive identification. (Courtesy photo/kauaiisc.org/Special to West Hawaii Today)

HILO — A bill that would dissolve the state Invasive Species Council to create an administrative body with greater authority to manage invasive species has passed all but one committee in the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 2399 would restructure the Hawaii Invasive Species Council into the Invasive Species Authority, granting it greater authority and resources to carry out the state’s biosecurity plan.

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One of the major changes that the bill would cause is to establish the authority under the Department of Agriculture, rather than the Department of Land and Natural Resources, as the species council is currently structured, said Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, who co-sponsored the bill.

By moving to the Department of Agriculture, the authority would have a defined operating budget, unlike the council, which operates year-to-year on grant money.

“As an authority, it would have more — not to be redundant — authority,” said Springer Kaye, manager of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee.

Kaye said the species council is frequently underfunded because it often receives less grant funding than it requests.

“That can be a problem, not knowing if you’ll be able work on the same species next year,” Kaye said. “You can have a three-year plan and get funding for the first two years and then you find out you don’t have funding in year three, and that’s two years of work wasted.”

An early draft of the bill would have allocated a $10 million yearly operating budget for the authority — a significant improvement from the approximately $4 million budget under which the council has previously operated. While the most recent draft of the bill has amended that budget to an unspecified amount, Ruderman said he thought the $10 million figure was reasonable.

Kaye said the authority would allow for significantly more departmental overlap when developing action plans, and represents a “critical step” for the state’s biosecurity plan, which was established in 2017.

The biosecurity plan, a 10-year comprehensive strategy to improve the state’s control of invasive species, called for extensive cooperation between the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Health and the University of Hawaii.

The bill currently has passed all committees in the state Senate and House of Representatives, save for the House Committee on Finance.

“All testimony has been in support of the bill,” Ruderman said. “I don’t think this is something anyone really has the motivation to try to kill.”

More than 100 pages of testimony from organizations, state agencies and private citizens were presented in various hearings as the bill progressed, all of which stressed the importance of managing the spread of invasive species in the state.

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“Over the last 20 years on the Big Island, we have witnessed an onslaught of negative impacts to residential life, the agriculture industry, and our economy due to harmful introduced species,” read a statement from the Big Island Invasive Species Committee.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com