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Hirono, Hawaii Delegation Introduces Legislation to Combat Rapid Ohia Death in Hawaii

Rapid Ohia Death has killed more than a million Ohia trees in Hawaii since its discovery in 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Representatives Jill Tokuda (D-HI) and Ed Case (D-HI) introduced legislation to combat Rapid Ohia Death (ROD), which has killed more than a million Ohia trees in Hawaii since its discovery in 2014. The Continued Rapid Ohia Death Response Act of 2023 authorizes $55 million in federal funding over the next eleven years to support ongoing efforts by federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), working in partnership with state agencies, to help combat Ohia tree death in Hawaii. The legislation is led by Senator Hirono in the Senate and Representative Tokuda in the House.

“Ohia Lehua are Hawaii’s most abundant native tree, but ROD poses a serious threat to the species’ survival,” said Senator Hirono. “As ROD continues to decimate Hawaii’s Ohia population, federal support is crucial to combating ROD and protecting Ohia trees across Hawaii. Ohia plays an important role in protecting our native ecosystems and I am proud to lead our delegation in advocating for the federal resources Hawaii needs to prevent further Ohia death and protect our state’s unique biodiversity.”

“I’m proud to join Senator Hirono in co-leading the introduction of the Continued Rapid Ohia Death Response Act, which will unlock federal support to combat the spread of Rapid Ohia Death and restore Hawaii’s ohia forests. Covering nearly one million acres throughout Hawaii, Ohia lehua forms the basis of our watershed, preventing runoff and providing critical habitat for endangered birds like honeycreepers. In recent years, Rapid Ohia Death has devastated too many ohia forests, especially on the Big Island, and its spread throughout Hawaii is deeply troubling. This bill is a step in the right direction to ensure this critical natural and cultural resource is there for the next generation,” said Representative Jill Tokuda.

“In order to fight Rapid Ohia Death, we need more resources to research the disease and work to control its spread. Our bill will give us more tools to preserve our Ohia and restore our native forests and ecosystems,” said Senator Schatz.

“Rapid Ohia Death, first detected on O?ahu just a few years ago, poses a major threat to these precious endemic trees found on tens of thousands of acres throughout the Ko?olau and Waianae mountain ranges,” said Representative Ed Case. “Our measure will help to combat this deadly fungus which left unchecked will devastate not only our most abundant native tree but with it our unique and endangered forest ecosystem.”

ROD is a fungus, Ceratocystis, that was first found in Hawaii in 2014 and has since killed over a million native Ohia trees. Over the past nine years ROD has been detected on Hawaii Island, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu. In that time, the USFS has partnered with the State of Hawaii and the U.S. Department of the Interior in efforts to detect and respond to the spread of ROD. Specifically, the Continued Rapid Ohia Death Response Act of 2023 would support these ongoing efforts by:

  • Directing the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the U.S. Geological Survey, to continue providing resources for the purposes of researching ROD vectors and transmission;
  • Requiring the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to work with the State of Hawaii and other local stakeholders on ungulate management in control areas on federal, state, and private land;
  • Requiring the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, to continue providing resources to prevent the spread of ROD and restore the native forests in Hawaii, and to also continue to provide financial and staff resources to the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry (IPIF), located in Hilo, to continue research on ROD; and
  • Authorizing $55 million in appropriations over the next eleven years for both the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to carry out these actions.


The full text of the bill is available here.

As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, Senator Hirono has championed legislation to protect Hawaii’s environment, fish, wildlife, and plants. Last September, she first introduced the Continued Rapid Ohia Death Response Act. Last month, Senator Hirono also joined the Hawaii delegation in introducing bills to support macadamia tree health and strengthen the coffee plant industry. In 2021, she and the Hawaii delegation also introduced legislation to assess the potential for Hawaii lands to be declared a national forest, which was signed into law in December. 

This past December, the House passed the Kaena Point National Heritage Area Act, legislation introduced by Senator Hirono to study designating Kaena Point on Oahu as a National Heritage Area. The month prior, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution she introduced recognizing the 50th anniversaries of the establishment of Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai and Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu. Last March, Senator Hirono also introduced a bipartisan resolution designating April 2022 as “National Native Plant Month,” recognizing the importance of native plants to environmental conservation and restoration, as well as in supporting a diversity of wildlife.