April 09, 2015

US Ag official, Hirono tour East Hawaii

U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono got a firsthand look Wednesday at two major problems facing Hawaii Island’s forests as they stood on a dirt road near Pu‘u Kali‘u in Puna.

On one side of the road, several fast-growing and invasive albizia trees towered over the native vegetation, while on the other, dozens of ohia trees were withering away because of a disease that has been devastating island forests throughout the past few years.

“When you see something like this, it’s terrifying,” explained Mililani Browning, natural resources manager for Kamehameha Schools.

The disease, known as Rapid Ohia Death, is thought to be the result of a pathogen that could have been introduced from abroad.

The trip to the forest near Leilani Estates was one of several stops in East Hawaii for Harden, who Hirono invited to hear about agriculture and forestry issues unique to the state.

Invasive species played a major role in the trip that also included stops at Green Point Nursery, Hawaiian Shores, the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, and the Pahoa solid waste transfer station, where they learned about the June 27 lava flow and the effect of vog on farming.

Harden said her role was to learn more about the impact of introduced pests and other issues facing the island to better inform policymakers in Washington, D.C. The volume of invasive species on the island was eye-opening, she said.

“We’ve seen some devastation here,” Harden said. “… You read about it, you hear about it but seeing it, talking to producers who are dealing with these very tough issues, it’s been a real eye-opening, enlightening morning so far.”

She said it’s important for the federal government to be flexible and creative when addressing invasive species in Hawaii, which deals with them more than any other state.

“It’s not going to be just that cookie-cutter answer that’s going to help them,” Harden said.

Read the entire piece at: http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/news/local-news/us-ag-official-hirono-tour-east-hawaii

By:  Tom Callis
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald