"Rolling the Dice" on Invasive Species During Shutdown

Jan 28, 2019

An agriculture specialist with Customs and Border Protection inspects imported produce at the land port in El Paso, Texas.
Credit Customs and Border Protection / Flickr

The effort to control non-native species in Hawaii was dealt a significant setback by the 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government. Inspectors at ports of entry remained on duty, but research and mitigation efforts into previously established invasive species saw major reductions in available resources.

In contrast to more obvious effects of the shutdown, like cancelled flights and a freeze on federal loans, the impact on invasive species mitigation was less apparent. Agriculture inspectors from Customs and Broder Protection and the Department of Agriculture were still on duty at air and seaports, although it is unclear if workloads and effectiveness were impacted as they were with TSA agents. State inspectors are responsible for clearing goods coming from the mainland United States and were not affected.

The Port of Honolulu is the single point of entry for all cargo ships arriving in Hawaii.
Credit Daniel Ramirez / Flickr

What is clear is that efforts to research and control invasive species already in Hawaii were immediately impacted. Federal agencies like the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service are the lead authorities on some of Hawaii’s most pressing ecological challenges, like Rapid Ohia Death and Rat Lung Worm Disease.

After the shutdown began, non-federal researchers on Hawaii Island scrambled to move experiments out of shuttered labs and salvage previously planned tests involving federal equipment. Much of their research is focused on the fungal disease that has been ravaging the island’s native ohia forests.

The coqui frog is one of Hawaii's most high profile invasive species. Since its introduction in the 1980's it has infested much of east Hawaii Island.
Credit U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

The efforts of the many state and federal entities are outlined in the state’s biosecurity program, rolled out in 2017. The vast majority of spending on that plan is on “post-border” activities; controlling invasive already here. But most experts agree that preventive “pre-border” actions are critical in addressing the problem.

That is especially true in Hawaii, where dozens of cargo ships and airplanes arrive every day. Christy Martin, an invasive species outreach coordinator with the University of Hawaii, described the constant flow of people and goods, combined with the decreased federal response, as a roll of the dice.

“We’re not rolling it every day, we’re rolling it every two minutes” Martin said. “You just can’t count on winning when you play something like that.”