Hearings and Business Meetings

10:00 AM

Mr. Mark Fox

Director of External Affairs, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii

Testimony of Mark R. Fox, Director of External Affairs

The Nature Conservancy, Hawai‘i Program


Field Hearing on Invasive Species

Subcommittee on National Parks

U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

August 9, 2005, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park




Senator Akaka, thank you for hosting this hearing and for the opportunity to testify on invasive species issues and legislative solutions to this serious threat.  My name is Mark Fox, and I am the Director of External Affairs for The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i.


The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.  With the support of approximately 1 million members, The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 120 million acres and 5,000 river miles around the world.  


The Hawai‘i Chapter of the Conservancy has been in operation for 25 years and we currently manage a network of 12 preserves encompassing about 32,000 acres across the main Hawaiian islands.  In addition to our core field work on our own preserves, we work with public and private colleagues throughout the state to organize and operate partnership entities that help protect and manage the islands’ globally unique, but extremely fragile natural resources.


Examples of these partnerships include the five Island Invasive Species Committees that you hear a lot about today, and nine watershed partnerships around the islands that are managing nearly 1 million acres of Hawaii’s most important forested watersheds.  Another example of such collaboration can now be enjoyed here at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.  With leadership from the entire Hawaii Congressional delegation, we acquired and transferred to the Park Service the 115,000-acre Kahuku Ranch.  That single transaction, valued at $22,000,000 and completed in 2004, expanded the Park’s land ownership by one-half and is the largest single conservation land acquisition in the history of the State.




Our organization’s experience over the last quarter century demonstrates that the single greatest threat to the survival of Hawaii’s natural environment is the damage done by non-native, invasive species.  Indeed, more than 90% of our field work and that of our conservation partners in Hawai‘i is directed to preventing, detecting, and controlling invasive species, both plants and animals, that alter and ultimately devastate the islands’ natural environment.


As you know, however, this is not just an environmental problem.  Under unfortunate circumstances, we are finding strong allies across a wide variety of sectors including the visitor industry, health care, agriculture, and real estate as we all try to figure out how to deal with pests ranging from alien algae that blanket coral reefs, mosquito borne diseases, fire ants and stinging caterpillars, forest-choking weeds, ear-splitting coqui frogs, and costly crop diseases.


We have been working hard over many years to physically control invasive species once they have arrived and become established.  However, it is only in the last 10 years that we have undertaken an organized effort in Hawai‘i to affect public policy with respect to invasive species.  Our work at the county, state and federal levels includes efforts to enhance recognition of the ecological, economic, health, and lifestyle threats from invasive species, to secure more funding to address these threats, and to support improved government policy in this area.




We appreciate the leadership of Senator Akaka and Senator Wyden in sponsoring important bills that move us in the right direction of addressing pressing invasive species policy needs.  The Natural Resource Protection Cooperative Agreement Act (S. 1288) will help with a very practical problem that has challenged the National Park Service.  This important legislation addresses the fact that no authority now exists to allow a park to expend resources or enter into partnerships to control imminent invasive species threats outside park boundaries.  The provisions of S. 1288 would simply and effectively resolve this problem, as well as provide additional authority for the Park Service to enter into collaborative relationships that will benefit park resources.  We trust the Administration will support this legislative version of the principles underlying the President’s Executive Order on Cooperative Conservation.


The Park Service has the expertise to provide significant national leadership in this area.  For example, using the teams that fight wildfires as a model, the National Park Service established Exotic Plant Management Teams (EPMT) across the country to serve as a highly-trained, mobile strike force that now protects hundreds of National Parks from the threat of invasive plants. Thanks to this program, the Pacific Islands EPMT proactively manages aggressive weeds in all the national parks in Hawai’i, protecting rare native communities from invasion.


We also appreciate your planned reintroduction of the Public Land Protection and Conservation Act (S. 2598, 108th Cong.). This measure creates an excellent framework of federal granting authority to assist states with assessment and rapid response to invasive species threats, and to foster partnerships to control pests on and adjacent to Interior and Forest Service lands. This bill would provide an important additional source of revenue to leverage existing state and local funding for invasive species, including funding for rapid response programs to eradicate incipient invasions before they become widely established. Together with other members of the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species, the Conservancy endorses this legislation and looks forward to working with you to gain passage of this bill.




We can and will spend vast amounts of time and money battling pests that become established in Hawai‘i and elsewhere in the United States.  However, it is a documented fact that the most effective, especially cost effective, way to deal with invasive species is to prevent their introduction in the first place.


Legislation designed, in part, to prevent the further introduction of aquatic invasive species to the United States, has already been introduced in both the House and Senate (S. 770 and H.R. 1591/1592). The Conservancy supports the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (NAISA), which is a comprehensive legislative approach to the threat of aquatic invasive species. This bill will cover all waters of the U.S., including marine and coastal waters, as well as inland lakes and streams.  The provisions providing for the pre-screening of intentional introductions and the establishment of an early warning system coupled with rapid response capability are important new authorities that would protect all of our nation’s aquatic resources, whether Great Lake, trout stream, bayou, or coral reef.


The need for NAISA is demonstrated by existing invasions of national parks.  For example, the New Zealand mud snail was accidentally introduced into Yellowstone National Park by recreational fishermen. This tiny snail is now alarmingly abundant and could prove to have major effects on some of the most pristine streams in the country. Likewise, the hitchhiking zebra mussel has spread to Wisconsin and is now smothering rare and endangered native mussels in the NPS administered St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.


Another major threat to the resources of many National Parks is the existing and potential effects of introduced forest insects and diseases.  The forests of such eastern parks as Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park no longer represent the primeval forest of the Appalachians.  The most noticeable missing tree is the American chestnut, which was virtually eradicated during the early 1900s by the introduced chestnut blight.  Other trees in the Appalachians have succumbed to and are threatened by a succession of invasions.  Increasing attention is currently focused on the hemlock woolly adelgid pest, which is killing the towering hemlocks that form unique ecosystems of great beauty and biological importance.  This year, the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Health Management program will fund more than $350,000 to map and develop a response to this pest in Great Smoky and Shenandoah National Parks, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and several smaller historic park units.  The response to this alien invader will probably rely largely on biological control and attempts to breed resistant trees.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park might soon face an even greater menace, the sudden oak death pathogen.  This plant disease, currently found in California where it is killing oaks and infesting other trees and plants in Redwoods National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore, can easily be spread by the movement of nursery stock.  If the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Protection Service (APHIS) fails to prevent such transmission, sudden oak death could infect a high proportion of the oak trees in Great Smoky Mountains and other parks, as well as the rhododendron shrubs that contribute so much to spring floral displays.


In addition, white pine blister rust is killing ninety percent or more of high-elevation five-needle pines in Glacier, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake National parks.  The disease was recently found in the mountains above Great Sand Dunes National Park.  As the disease continues to spread in the Rockies, it will threaten pines in Rocky Mountain and Great Basin National parks.


As noted above, much of the National Park Service’ current effort to combat introduced forest insects and pathogens is funded through the USDA Forest Service Forest Health Management Program.  Chairman Charles Taylor of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has provided key Congressional leadership to increase funding for this program.  However, the agency responsible for preventing introductions of forest pests and eradicating those that evade border controls is USDA APHIS.  Unfortunately, APHIS has not received adequate funding to carry out effective eradication programs targeting even the pests which pose the greatest risk, such as the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle.  Congress and the governors of affected states have urged the Administration to provide emergency funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation, but the Administration has so far rejected such requests.


Turning more directly to the issue of prevention and the threat of new pest introductions in Hawai‘i, I would like to offer some specific comments on inspection and quarantine activities at ports of entry.  While this may not be directly within the jurisdiction of this subcommittee, it is an area of critical importance to any entity trying to manage invasive species threats. 


As a direct result of National Park Service leadership, a model for prevention is being realized on the island of Maui where we are all benefiting from improved understanding of pest risks and enhanced quarantine and inspection capacity at Kahului International Airport.  These enhancements include additional inspectors and a modern and secure inspection facility that will soon be constructed at the airport. 


This process, which began with a proposed runway extension, was not easy for anyone involved particularly on an island that relies heavily on visitor and cargo arrivals to support its economy.   However, the model now being established at Kahului airport is the product of hard work and understanding by a number of individuals and agencies like the National Park Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Hawaii Department of Transportation Airports Division, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, and others.


The important progress at Kahului airport traces back to Haleakala National Park leadership, particularly Superintendent Don Reeser who is here today, that insisted on the importance of protecting against new pest introductions.  This position by the Park Service was primarily for the protection of the globally unique resources at Haleakala National Park, but it also was based in the much broader appreciation of the role of natural landscapes on Maui and across the island chain.  After all, Hawaii’s natural environment is what drives our visitor economy, provides the year-round climate for our diversified agriculture industry, delivers the most basic necessities like clean fresh water from healthy forested watersheds, and allows us the lifestyle that all residents enjoy.


It is also worth noting that the Park Service in Hawai‘i and Channels Island National Park has been a leader in protecting globally significant resources from feral animals, including pigs, goats and sheep.


Federal Preemption


Even with this spirit of collaboration and example of success at Kahului airport, there are formidable challenges to developing a truly effective prevention system—right up to and including the United State Constitution and the free market principles this nation is founded upon.  For centuries this country has promoted the important notions of free trade and open boarders to commerce.


The Constitution’s Commerce Clause (Art I., Sec. 8, Clause 3) and Supremacy Clause (Art VI, Clause 2) set that stage by giving Congress the authority to regulate commerce with other nations and between the states, and confirming that federal law is the supreme law of the land.  In the area of pest prevention, the federal Plant Protection Act takes it a step further by specifically preempting states from being more restrictive than the federal government in regulating the movement of plants and plant products.  (7 USC § 7756)  The federal government is not so preemptive with respect to regulating the movement of animals, both terrestrial and aquatic. 


The differences in Hawai‘i state law regarding the introduction of plants and non-domestic animals (Hawai‘i Revised Statutes §§ 150A-6.1 and -6.2) directly reflect the preference for movement of plants through federal preemption of state regulatory regimes.  Basically, Hawaii uses a black list (noxious weed list) approach to plants, and a white list approach to animals.  What this means is that virtually all plants are allowed to be introduced to Hawai‘i unless on a very short noxious weed list (~80 identified plants).  Conversely, no non-domestic animals are allowed entry into the state unless on one of two short approved lists.


The State of Hawai‘i runs directly into federal preemption if it wishes to strengthen its statutes regarding plants or implement stricter state quarantine regulations.  The only available choice is a long and laborious process of securing approval for heightened restrictions on a species-by-species basis from the Secretary of Agriculture.  (7 USC § 7756(b)(2)(B))


With this problem in mind and recognizing Hawaii’s unique risk from invasive species, a bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives that would provide Hawai‘i with additional federal support on incoming quarantine inspections and establish an expedited process for the State to implement regulations to protect itself from pest threats.  In particular, H. R. 3468, the Hawaii Invasive Species Prevention Act, would:


§         Mandate federal quarantine protection for the State of Hawai‘i to prevent the introduction of invasive species, including a system of post-arrival protocols for all passengers and cargo;

§         Allow for federal enforcement of State quarantine laws;

§         Establish an expedited review process for the State of Hawai‘i to impose restrictions on the movement of invasive species or diseases that are in addition to federal restrictions; and

§         Allow the State of Hawai‘i to impose limited emergency restrictions upon the introduction or movement of a pest or disease.


We hope you will review this bill and consider introducing a companion measure in the Senate.



Brown Tree Snakes and the Department of Defense


The build up of U.S. military activities in the global war on terrorism has resulted in unprecedented growth and movement of military personnel and cargo at many installations in the United States and abroad.  Current and planned expansion of military facilities on Guam are putting enormous pressure on military facilities there and, as a result, on U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services personnel tasked with inspecting the vast amounts of cargo leaving Guam.  Available funding from the Departments of Defense, Interior and Agriculture for Wildlife Service’s inspection operations has been level for about a decade and has, therefore, not kept pace with the military’s massive operational expansion on Guam and elsewhere in the Pacific.  Additionally, Wildlife Services personnel, equipment and canines are being housed in substandard facilities, if not crowded off Anderson Air Force Base altogether, and cargo is regularly leaving Guam without any inspection. 


In the last two weeks of June alone:


§         7 military aircraft left Guam uninspected by Wildlife Services personnel.

§         These aircraft contained 131 military household goods packouts.

§         These packouts included 312,780 lbs. of cargo.

§         This cargo was bound for locations throughout the Pacific, the U.S. mainland, and Europe.

§         Final destinations included temperate locations such as Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, California, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Louisiana where brown tree snakes could survive year-round and pose significant ecological, economic and human health threats.

(Source: USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services, Guam)


The 2003 reauthorization of the federal Sikes Act  (16 USC §§ 670a-670f) included a pilot program requiring that the Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan (INRMP) for Anderson Air Force Base on Guam contain specific elements on invasive species.  We recommend a review of this pilot test, including consideration that it be applied to all Defense Department INRMPs through either further amendment to the Sikes Act or the annual Defense Authorization Act. 


We also recommend specific requirements concerning not only the impact of invasive species to natural resources on military bases, but also the threats posed to outside locations as the result of exports of pests in military transport.  Further, it is important that invasive species mitigation, especially regarding the movement of pests in military transport, become an integral component of the budgeting for base operations and military readiness.  Important language that would have required this type of consideration was stricken from the Brown Tree Snake Control and Eradication Act of 2004 before it passed the Congress last year.




Thank you again for this opportunity to offer The Nature Conservancy’s comments on the critical issues related to invasive species policy.  The global economy and our ability to quickly and efficiently move people and goods around the globe benefit all of us.  However, these same modern advancements are exponentially elevating the potentially catastrophic threats of invasive pests and diseases.  We greatly appreciate your recognition of this serious issue and your willingness to take a leadership role in enhancing federal policies and resources to address this problem.