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Hawaiʻi's biosecurity plan slows as state struggles to retain workers

Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources

The state is over halfway through its 10-year interagency biosecurity plan and advocates are concerned that dwindling staff retention could prohibit the state from reaching its goals.

State legislators received an update on the invasive species plan during an informational briefing this week. They reported that the project has slowed down because many employees have left due to stagnant salaries.

They said that the pandemic delayed many projects, making it difficult to secure funding for larger ideas, such as new facilities.

The Hawaiʻi Interagency Biosecurity Plan is a layout of how the state's agencies can work together to avoid the growth of economically draining invasive species.

The plan is a byproduct of the Hawaiʻi Invasive Species Council, comprised of officials from both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Their decade-long plan offers agency guidance, with over 100 assigned action goals and instructions on how to accomplish them.

Researchers say that invasive species are the largest drivers of biodiversity loss in island ecosystems. When species from temperate climates are introduced to a tropical climate, pests are also introduced to an environment where they can reproduce year-round.

Program supervisor Chelsea Arnott said funding the project is much cheaper than the damage from invasive species.

"Aquatic systems have over 400 new non-native species and 10,000 plants that have been introduced, with around 200 of those damaging ecosystems," she said.

"Around 50% of the native habitat is left across the islands, but that is threatened by new and existing invasive species."

A risk assessment at Kahului Airport found that one new insect or plant disease is found almost every day.

The biosecurity plan has implemented 68% of its action plans so far.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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