Bill expands authority to eradicate invasive species on private property

  • Little fire ants are small, slow-moving and hard to see. They pose a threat to wildlife and pets, and cause painful bites for humans. (Courtesy photo/state Department of Agriculture)

  • Little fire ants can fit on the tip of a pencil. (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Department of Agriculture)

KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaii Legislature is close to signing into law a measure that will provide invasive species committees another weapon in the fight against biological intruders.

House Bill 201 HD1 SD1 passed its third reading in the state Senate Friday and will now be sent back to the House of Representatives. Rep. Nicole Lowen (D-Kona) introduced the bill and plans to adopt it as-is, fast tracking it to Gov. David Ige’s desk as long as it doesn’t encounter any pushback from House leadership.

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“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to pass it and avoid conference and send it straight up to the governor,” she said.

The measure is a tweak to an existing law that allows authorized personnel to enter private property upon which invasive species are known to exist. If signed, Lowen’s bill would allow the same personnel access to private lands on which it can be “reasonably expected” invasive species exist.

“This is just a little fix, which in my view is basically for little fire ants,” Lowen said.

Unlike other invasive species such as coqui frogs and rapid ohia death, which can be heard or seen, little fire ants are less conspicuous. There are often telling signs of their presence, such as being confirmed on neighboring properties. However, that previously wasn’t enough for authorities to go in and eradicate. If HB 201 passes, it will be.

The Big Island Invasive Species Committee goes through an exhaustive process of trying to contact property owners and submitting a thorough request to County Corporation Counsel before it ever enters private land.

“We try to track people down in every possible way before we just say, ‘We can’t get in touch with this person,’” explained Franny Brewer, communications director at BIISC, in an interview with West Hawaii Today in February.

HB 201 didn’t inspire much controversy through the Legislative process. The one noticeable concern came initially from the Hawaii Farm Bureau. The bureau requested an amendment requiring the Invasive Species Council to create a list of invasive species that would qualify for private property intervention. It requested further the Board of Agriculture approve said list, leaving it open to quick amendments moving forward.

Cathy Goeggel, who testified for Animal Rights Hawaii, also asked for a list of invasive species, adding the measure required more clarity.

“This bill continues to be too vague,” she wrote in testimony. “Until and unless the DoA and DLNR hold public hearings to change HAR to establish which animals they consider to be invasive, we must continue to oppose HB201 HD1 SD1.”

Lowen on Friday addressed why no list was drawn up.

“The concerns that are raised are usually coming from animal rights activists who are concerned in some way that it’s about eradicating feral cats, which it just has never been,” she said. “And we did put in some language in there that sort of specified it doesn’t apply to pet animals.”

Language to which Lowen referred was added as part of a House amendment. Its addition left the bill specifying “… this Act is not intended to enable entry onto private property for the purpose of controlling or eradicating non-prohibited pet animals.”

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Lowen said as far as she’s aware, the state doesn’t eradicate feral cats. The Department of Land and Natural Resources did not respond by press time Friday to an email sent the same afternoon asking for confirmation of departmental practices concerning feral cats.

The only amendment to the bill offered by the Senate was to change the effective date to July 1, 2019, should Gov. Ige sign it into law.

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