February 25, 2020

Hirono Secures Commitments from Forest Service Chief on Vital Hawaii Priorities During Energy Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Fiscal Year 2021 Budget, Senator Mazie K. Hirono secured commitments from Vicki Christiansen, Chief of the USFS, to work together on critical priorities for Hawaii’s forests. 

These commitments include: 

-        A promise from Chief Christiansen to examine the creation of a new state-of-the-art biocontrol research facility to protect Hawaii’s environment, agriculture, and human health from some of the world’s worst invasive pests and pathogens.

-        An agreement to support the state’s biosecurity plan to address existing and emerging threats such as Rapid Ohia Death (ROD) by working to make a Forest Pathologist a permanent position in Hawaii.

-        A pledge that the Administration will clarify what a proposal to consolidate the Pacific Southwest Research Station with the Pacific Northwest Research Station means for Hawaii’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry in Hilo. The Pacific Southwest Research Station currently oversees research in Hawaii, California, and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands.

Senator Hirono also pressed Chief Christiansen about the President’s budget request for the Forest Service – noting that it does not provide sufficient funding for programs critical to supporting forest conservation in Hawaii.

From Senator Hirono’s Remarks:

“I appreciate the interagency cooperation that has gone into helping Hawaii combat a pathogen that has been devastating the native Ohia trees called Rapid Ohia Death. You mentioned that our forests account for a vast majority of our nation’s drinking water. That certainly is the case for our Ohia forests because they are part of watersheds. Money from the State and Private Forestry account has been critical to helping our folks on the ground in Hawaii address Rapid Ohia Death. I’m disappointed to see that the President’s budget makes severe cuts to a program that is so important to Hawaii and I’ll work with my colleagues in Congress to see that the program is funded more adequately.”

Senator Hirono has called for more attention to protecting native Hawaiian plants like Ohia during her time in the Senate. In 2015, then-U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and Senator Hirono toured areas on Hawaii Island devastated by ROD. In 2016, the Senator praised the Fiscal Year 2017 budget for reflecting Hawaii priorities including studies of ROD to prevent further destruction by the disease. During that year, Senator Hirono also questioned then-USFS Chief Thomas Tidwell about progress to combat ROD. 

In 2018, the Senator toured the Native Hawaiian Garden at Lyon Arboretum and planted an endangered native Hawaiian ohai tree. In 2019, the Senator secured Hawaii priorities in the Natural Resources Management Act and successfully included resources to protect Hawaii’s environment in a critical funding package. 

Last year, Senator Hirono also introduced legislation that would promote the use of native plants by federal land management agencies and a bill that would protect endangered plants and provide $30 million for the Pacific Islands Plant Conservation Fund.