Hearings and Business Meetings

10:00 AM

Dr. Neil Reimer

Branch Chief, Plant Quarantine, Hawaii Department of Agriculture

Testimony of Neil J. Reimer, Ph.D., Plant Quarantine Branch Chief, Hawaii Department of Agriculture


Field Hearing on Invasive Species

Subcommittee on national Parks

U.S. Senate Committee on energy and Natural Resources

August 9, 2005, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park




Senator Akaka and Senator Wyden, thank you for conducting this hearing and for granting me the opportunity to testify on existing legislation and legislative solutions as it relates to invasive species.  My name is Neil Reimer.  I am the Branch Chief for the Plant Quarantine Branch within the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA).


The Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s mission is to ensure that agriculture is a respected and significant driver of the State’s economy.  The Plant Quarantine Branch within the Hawaii Department of Agriculture is mandated by state law to protect Hawaii’s agricultural and horticultural industries, as well as the State’s natural environment and human health through the interdiction and exclusion of invasive alien species.  Invasive species regulated by the branch include non-domestic animals, plants, and microorganisms that may be harmful and/or pathogenic to humans, animals, plants, and the environment.


Our counterparts within the federal government include Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Department of Agriculture Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ), and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  CBP is mandated to enforce federal agriculture importation laws for material arriving from foreign sources.  USDA enforces domestic quarantines for the movement of certain pests between states, and FWS enforces animal importations through the Lacey Act.


Recently, there has been heightened awareness of the problems associated with the entry of invasive alien species into Hawaii and increased interest and concern in protecting Hawaii’s environment and endangered species.  The demand that HDOA continue to exclude invasive alien species from Hawaii is growing as evidenced by the strong concerns engendered by the Kahului, Maui airport runway extension project and the creation of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council under the governors office, to name a few.


The Kahului Airport runway extension project consisted of plans for major improvements for the airport on Maui to enhance airport services and operational safety.  These improvements included lengthening and strengthening of an existing runway, constructing a new, state-of-art, cargo handling facility, expanding bulk fuel storage capacity and distribution lines, and improving airport roadways and support facilities. 


A joint Federal-State Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) identified alien species introduction as an environmental risk associated with direct overseas flights landing on Maui at Kahului Airport.  Because of concerns regarding the adequacy of the EIS, the U.S. Department of Interior (USDOI) asked the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to undertake a review of the environmental assessment and to make recommendations.  CEQ convened working sessions involving the U.S. Departments of Transportation, Interior, and Agriculture, and the State of Hawaii Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, and Land and Natural Resources, to address appropriate mitigation measures.  These discussions led to adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), dated August 24, 1998, and signed by participating federal and state agencies, for the “Prevention of Alien Species Introduction through the Kahului Airport”.  One result of this MOU was implementation of a risk assessment of invasive species introductions at Kahului Airport.


The Kahului Airport Pest Risk Assessment (KARA) involved intensive inspections of checked and carry-on-baggage by inspectors and detector dog teams; inspections of aircraft cabins and cargo holds of mainland flights; and 100% inspections of agricultural products shipped by air cargo.


A total of 1,897 commercial direct overseas flights, with 399,463 passengers and crew on board, were inspected.  Agricultural commodities in baggage or the aircraft cabin were found in 1,539 of the 1,897 flights.  While passengers and the aircraft were found to be potential pathways of entry of agricultural commodities and pests into Maui, the risk of pest introduction through these pathways was found to be small.  Inspectors examined 4,644 agricultural items recovered from the cabins of aircraft or the carry-on or checked baggage (4,396) of passengers.  Passengers declared 3,873 of the 4,644 agricultural products intercepted by inspectors.  The remaining 771 agricultural items (16%) were interceptions of items that were not declared on Plant and Animal Declaration Forms distributed on the aircraft prior to landing.  Only 11 of the 771 intercepted items were found to be infested with a pest and were confiscated.


Detector dog teams monitored 422 flights in the baggage claim area and found 1,143 agricultural products in baggage.  Apples, bananas, and oranges were the products commonly intercepted.  Only 3 restricted agricultural commodities were found, all Florida citrus without proper documentation for entry into Hawaii.  These were confiscated and destroyed.  Passengers declared 343 of the 1,143 agricultural items intercepted by the detector dog teams.   The remaining 800 items (70%) were interceptions that were not declared on Plant and Animal Declaration Forms distributed on the aircraft prior to landing. 


Cargo was identified as a high-risk pathway for the entry of pests into Maui.  A total of 480 different agricultural products were identified in cargo shipments and subjected to inspection.  Pests were found on 114 different agricultural products: 51% of the products were infested less than 10% of the time; 49% of the commodities were infested more than 10% of the time.  A total of 1,401 insect interceptions were made on agricultural commodities.  Of the 279 species intercepted, 125 were not known to occur in Hawaii; 103 were established in Hawaii; and 51 were of undetermined status.  One hundred fifty-six interceptions involved plant disease organisms, 47 of which were determined to be pathogenic species.


A total of 1,401 interceptions were made in the 130-day blitz for an average of 10.8 interceptions per day for the KARA.  This compares to an average of 782 interceptions per year (2.1 quarantine pest interceptions per day) on a statewide basis for the years 1995 through 2001.


These numbers give information on the problems with prevention of invasive species importations at one port of entry.  In fact, this is a limited port of entry in that only certain commodities are allowed into the state through this port.  The problem is worse at other ports. 


To address the problems found in this risk assessment, inspector staffing at the airport was increased from 5 to 14 inspectors, positions were changed from temporary to permanent, and a cargo inspection facility will be built, among others.


Once an alien species bypasses prevention efforts at the ports and becomes established in the State it is virtually impossible to eradicate.  The result is spread throughout the State including into the National Parks.  What follows is environmental degradation, loss of species diversity, extinction of species, and other continuous economic losses for the rest of history.  It has been well demonstrated that it is less costly to prevent the entry of invasive species than it is to attempt to control them once established.  Therefore, there should be a strong focus on prevention efforts to ensure that the problem never arrives.


In these prevention efforts in Hawaii, a number of issues have surfaced which could be addressed by federal legislation.  I will include three in this testimony; preemption, brown tree snake, and border inspections.




In the past, Hawaii has asked for exemption from the preemption clause (sec. 436) in the Plant Protection Act.  The preemption clause establishes that no state may regulate in foreign commerce any article, plant, biocontrol organism, plant pest, or noxious weed to control, eradicate, or prevent the introduction of the pest into the state.  It also established that the state may not regulate these pests in interstate commerce unless the state’s regulations are equal to or less restrictive than the federal regulations.  The clause does allow for the states to petition the Secretary of Agriculture to add additional restrictions on a case by case basis.


A request to exempt Hawaii from the importation of ivy gourd fruits was denied because of a USDA finding that it did not represent a pest risk to the United States.  This was in spite of Hawaii's testimony that ivy gourd is one of the State's most serious noxious weeds.  This aggressive vine has invaded the lowlands, covering up trees and telephone poles alike.  If a Federal preemption clause had been invoked on the regulation that allowed the interstate movement of honey bees, it would have also allowed honey bees to enter the State even though Hawaii does not have the Varroa and tracheal mites, has a State law that prohibits the entry of honey bees, and has the means for keeping them out of the State through interstate cargo, baggage, and mail inspections.  If bromeliads were allowed to enter Hawaii with media attached as proposed earlier and a preemption clause had been invoked, it would have been an avenue for tropical biting midges to enter the islands and become established.  The State is still very much concerned about the preemption in Federal rules governing the importation of orchids grown in media from Taiwan, and proposals for importations of orchids from other tropical and subtropical areas of the world.  Orchids are normally held in quarantine in Hawaii because of the many various snails, slugs, ants, beetles, biting flies, and viruses that have been found associated with even bare-rooted plants.  The State of Hawaii and the Hawaii Orchid Growers Association (HOGA) requested USDA to be more restrictive on the requirements for orchid imports into Hawaii.  At a minimum, the request was to allow for inspection of the imported orchids.  The main concern was for the accidental importation of slugs and snails as has been seen on orchid imports in the past.  HOGA has initiated a lawsuit against USDA because of this decision.  The importation of orchids in media without any inspection or quarantine will exacerbate an already serious problem that affects one of Hawaii's major ornamentals.


Finally, an exemption from the Federal preemption clause is especially important for places like Hawaii when one also considers that Federal quarantines are frequently established to protect major crops that are grown in the continental U.S., which it should.  Because of climatic differences between the continental U.S. and the non-contiguous states, however, Hawaii's most important crops are considered minor.  Case in point, for several decades mealybugs have been entering the continental U.S. on foreign bananas.  These bananas are inspected and released by federal agencies in California (U.S. port of entry) based on bananas not being a major agricultural crop in the continental U.S. and, therefore, banana consumed as food not being considered a high pest risk.  Banana was and still is a major crop in Hawaii, however.  Whenever mealybug-infested bananas enter Hawaii from California, they are treated by freezing, fumigated with methyl bromide, or rejected.  In 1984, a mealybug on bananas from Central America that had entered the U.S. via California became established in Hawaii and found its way onto some Hawaii flowers that were exported to California.  The flowers were rejected in California.  The mealybug is still being found on bananas that are imported into Hawaii from Central America via California.


Awareness of these issues has prompted Representative Ed Case to introduce a bill (HR 3468) which would provide additional inspections and establish an expedited process for States to seek approval of the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior for specific prohibitions or restrictions upon the introduction or movement of invasive species from domestic or foreign locations to Hawaii.  HDOA hopes you will review this bill and introduce a companion into the Senate.


Brown Tree Snake


Hawaii is concerned with the impact increased military activities on Guam will have on the State of Hawaii.  The impact to Hawaii of the proposed expansion and the cumulative effects of current and future expansions of the Air Force and Navy on Guam need to be considered. 


Current military activities on Guam have increased the risk of accidental importation to Hawaii of brown tree snake and other alien species.  Brown tree snakes have been intercepted eight times in Hawaii in association with the movement of military aircraft, equipment, supplies, empty containers and household goods of military personnel.  An increase in military movement will increase the risks for the movement of these pests to Hawaii. 


The brown tree snake was likely introduced to the island of Guam in materials moved by the military during the late 1940’s.  The snake has caused, and continues to cause, significant economic, ecological, and human health impacts to Guam.  The brown tree snake is responsible for the extinction of 9 of 13 native forest bird species on Guam.  The brown tree snake causes frequent electrical power outages and is a concern for human health and safety.  Snakes currently occur at high densities on Guam and there is a significant risk that these snakes will be transported off Guam in military transport and cargo. 


Similar impacts would be experienced in Hawaii should the snake become established here.  Experts estimate the potential economic impact to Hawaii would be between $400 million and $1.8 billion annually.  


Hawaii would like to see 100% inspection of military vehicles and household goods, as well as 100% coverage by an interdiction program at Guam sea ports and airports.  It is important that invasive species mitigation, especially regarding the movement of pests in military aircraft, cargo, and personal effects, become a required component in military budgeting for base operations.  The military needs to take responsibility for the movement of these pests.  This is especially problematic during times of war as the movement of military equipment increases but the repercussions of not taking this into consideration are the movement and establishment of invasive species which will cause ecological, health, and economic losses long after the war is over and potentially for all future generations.


Border Inspections


Following September 11 the inspections of agricultural commodities from foreign ports for invasive species has shifted from USDA/PPQ to DHS/CBP.  Federal agriculture inspectors have been reassigned from PPQ to CBP with assurances that there would not be any decrease in the inspection of foreign agriculture commodities for invasive species.  The reality appears to be that the focus within CBP has shifted from invasive species detection to the detection of potential acts of terrorism.  This has become a great concern among the state departments of agriculture as an increase establishment of invasive species from foreign sources will have a severe negative impact on the agricultural economy.  Many of these pests will also reach the National Parks.  A mechanism needs to be found to ensure that the inspection for invasive species from foreign sources remains a high priority within the federal government.





Thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee.  Some of these concerns may appear to be removed from the National Park system but all of the alien invasive species that are currently causing serious problems in the parks came into the State from outside sources, many unintentionally.  We appreciate you taking the time to listen to testimony on these serious issues.