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The Conversation

The Fight Against Invasive Species Has Received Less Funding During the Pandemic

Invasive brown tree snakes have gobbled up most of Guam's native forest birds. Without these avian predators to keep their numbers in check, the island's spider population has exploded.
Invasive brown tree snakes on Guam

The focus on the pandemic has taken attention — and some funding — away from the fight against invasive species.

The Hawaii Invasive Species Council says a lack of focus on capacity building in this area is short-sighted and will eventually be even more costly to the state.

The council, made up of five state departments and the University of Hawaiʻi, is prepping its next progress report for the 2027 Hawaii Interagency Biosecurity Plan. The update will mark the halfway point in the original timeline for the 10-year plan.

Chelsea Arnott, a planner with the group, says they hit the ground running with the plan in 2017, but the pandemic has stalled progress.

One unmet goal was the creation of an emergency response fund.

"There's still a need to be able to have some money set aside to rapidly respond to new pest incursions. If we move forward with implementing every action identified in the biosecurity plan, that on a yearly basis across 10 years is $38 million per year," Arnott said. "And that's just a drop in the bucket, compared to something like brown tree snake coming and establishing in Hawaiʻi."

The council says the introduction of the brown tree snake, which is common on Guam, could cause $2 billion every year in damages to the state economy.

"It's hard to get people excited about prevention. It's not sexy because you don't see it. But it is one of the biggest aspects of biosecurity and it's cost effective to keep these pests out before they come in," she said.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Sept. 27, 2021.

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