Hearings and Business Meetings

10:00 AM

Dr. Lloyd Loope

Research Scientist, U.S. Geological Survey

Testimony of Lloyd Loope, Ph.D., Research Scientist

USGS, Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center, Haleakala Field Station, Maui, Hawaii

In response to questions posed by Senator Daniel Akaka


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: What are some of the invasions that pose the worst threats to the parks

in Hawaii?  How did these invaders get to Hawaii in the first place and what damage

do they do? What measures are needed to prevent more of the same?


Senator Akaka and Senator Wyden, thank you so much for the opportunity to give the best answers I can to these challenging questions. I came to Hawaii in 1980 as the first Research Biologist for the National Park Service at Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. My job was to conduct research and advise the park on strategies and techniques for protecting its biodiversity and ecosystems. I was transferred to my current agency, U.S. Geological Survey, in the mid-1990s, with little change in mission and fortunately more authority to work outside the park.


In the 25 years I’ve been in my job on Maui I’ve learned the hard way that

by far the greatest threat to the national parks and the highly endemic island biota is the barrage of  invasive non-native species introductions. Many of them are introduced intentionally, including most of our worst invasive plants, as for example the invasive tree Miconia, which was regarded as just another pretty plant when it was introduced to Hawaii in about 1960. Many others – including insect pests and diseases – are not introduced on purpose but are hitchhikers primarily on horticultural and other agricultural goods that come in through our ports-of-entry – our airports and harbors – both from foreign countries or from the U.S. mainland


Hawaii, an isolated oceanic archipelago with 10,000 endemic species that occur nowhere else in the world, is especially vulnerable to biological invasions. One consultant to USDA (Russell McGregor) back in the 1970s noted that per unit area, the rate of alien insect introduction in Hawaii is 500x that of the continental United States. And it’s no better today, yet remarkably Hawaii still has largely intact natural areas. Yet Hawaii doesn’t get any special consideration from the federal government’s effort at our borders for prevention from invasive species. Allowing the NPS to work with and assist in funding of partnerships to combat invasive species before they  reach park boundaries seems to me to be a sound first step in untying the hands of the NPS to more fully address the invasive species threats to our natural and cultural heritage.


Often there are huge gaps among agency mandates. An important event in my personal education was an outbreak of rabbits at Haleakala National Park that took place in 1990, 15 years ago this month. The park dodged a bullet and eradicated the rabbits, but not until we had removed 100 rabbits. Afterward, we learned that a thoughtless pet owner had released about 6 rabbits in the park 10 months earlier. It was one of the more spectacular success stories I’ve ever been involved with. If we hadn’t succeeded, the island of Maui, including the cabbage farmers in the upcountry agricultural area, would have had to deal with millions of rabbits within a few years. Maui people instinctively realized this, and the park has never enjoyed so much praise from the local community as during those months right after we eliminated the rabbits. But we learned that if the infestation had been outside the park, no one other than the landowner would have had a mandate to eliminate the rabbits. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture told us that their mandate was to encourage rabbit raising, in cages, of course.  We wondered whether, and still wonder, if the rabbit infestation had occurred just outside the park boundary on ranch land, for example, would the park have been able to legally act to eradicate rabbits in cooperation with the ranch?  The national parks definitely need such a mandate.


The rabbit incident inspired me while still working for the NPS, to take on the Miconia issue in 1991 after that destructive neotropical tree was first discovered on Maui in the Hana area, about 5 miles from the park. Then park superintendent Don Reeser, though very supportive of my efforts, cautioned me that people might question whether a NPS employee had any authority to get involved with on-the-ground work on land outside the park. Fortunately, partners recognized the severity of the situation and came forward to work with us in a succession of events that eventually led to formation of  the island invasive species committees. But the National Park Service desperately needs authority to work with partners and spend funds outside park boundaries to protect the parks. There are many examples of this need, but I believe there are no better examples than rabbits and Miconia on Maui.


I mentioned above that many of the destructive invasive species that threaten the parks and Hawaiian biodiversity were introduced intentionally and many others were introduced unintentionally. Prevention of such introductions to Hawaii, both intentional and unintentional, at U.S. and State borders (ports of entry), is almost entirely under the mandate of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA).  Prevention of invasive pests that threaten natural areas is, however, at best a secondary priority for any of these federal or state departments. For Homeland Security, the priority is obvious – national security. For the agriculture departments, the priority (quite understandably) is protecting agriculture.  Border protection is of course an extremely difficult undertaking and secondary priorities understandably tend to fall through the cracks. But Hawaii needs special protection if there is to be hope of protecting more than fragments of its natural heritage into the future. I must say that in my opinion HDOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch under Neil Reimer is striving as best they can to prevent threats to natural resources as well as agriculture. Dr. Reimer as well as Mark Fox of The Nature Conservancy, part of the second panel today, will address the phenomenon of federal preemption and some measures that could be effective toward shoring up the best prevention efforts of HDOA.


Some very damaging invaders of have recently breached federal and state border control efforts. Many of these are not just threats to natural areas but threats to horticulture, agriculture, and in some cases human and animal health as well. HDOA has an informative system of New Pest Alerts at http://www.hawaiiag.org/hdoa/npa.htm


Adequately conveying the severity of Hawaii’s current invasive species crisis as it affects national parks, endemic biodiversity, and Hawaiian culture in Hawaii is a daunting task, but I’ll briefly summarize the status of just six recently introduced pests that are especially damaging. I could be wrong (and would be delighted to stand corrected) but I’m pretty sure that the ones that likely came to Hawaii from foreign countries would not have been considered actionable quarantine pests if intercepted by DHS/USDA at the international Ports of Honolulu or Kona, because none of them would be considered threats to mainstream U.S. agriculture. This may well be a rational national response to the challenging demands of protecting U.S. agriculture from foreign pests in this age of free trade. But I think it is important to at least consider the cumulative toll being taken on the natural and cultural heritage of Hawaii and Pacific islands, as manifested in national parks and elsewhere.


Erythrina gall wasp (Quadrastichus erythrinae): This species was first reported on Oahu in April 2005. It was originally probably from Africa but most likely passed to us from Taiwan (where the species is invasive and recent outbreaks occurred) in flowers or nursery material. All of a sudden, this very tiny wasp (males are 1mm long, females 1.5mm) is currently in the process of killing almost all Erythrina on Oahu, both the endemic species (wiliwili) and the cultivated species. There are recent reports of new neighbor island records of the gall wasp near the Kona (Hawaii island) airport (7/21/05), the Kauai airport (7/26/05) and downtown Kahului, Maui (7/30/05). Sadly, the prospects for Maui’s Pu'u-o-Kali wiliwili preserve and the wiliwili in all the national parks on Hawaii island are absolutely frightening. As little as three years ago, the magnificent native wiliwili trees on Maui seemed to be "bulletproof." Three years ago a seed-eating bruchid beetle (Specularius impressithorax) from Africa suddenly arrived and was soon attacking almost all wiliwili seeds. Today, as a result of arrival of the Erythrina gall wasp, the possibility of survival of wiliwili, until now one of the few abundant endemic tree species in remnant areas of lowland dry areas of Hawaii, into next year is even in doubt. This is especially unfortunate because of the traditional importance of wiliwili for native Hawaiians in making outriggers of canoes, surfboards, and lei.

For updates on this rapidly evolving issue, see http://www.hear.org/issues/wiliwilionmaui/


`Ohi`a rust disease (Puccinia psidii): Another plant trade-related introduction, this newly established (April 2005) rust, most likely arrived with a plant shipment from Florida or possibly a foreign country somewhere in the neotropics, poses a potentially formidable threat to Hawaii's `ohi`a (Metrosideros polymorpha) forests. This is of course alarming since `ohi`a comprises over 80% of Hawaii’s still-intact forest. The rust seems to have a broad host range within its family (Myrtaceae, including mountain apple, guavas, eucalyptus, etc.). This rust disease that attacks new, actively growing leaves is not just a threat to Hawaii’s forests. New Zealand will be looking out to protect its beloved Metrosideros forests. Australia is definitely concerned for its 600+ endemic species of Eucalyptus. Though it has so far been detected only in forests on Oahu, Maui HDOA has found `ohi`a rust disease in shipments from Oahu to at least two big box stores on Maui.


Nettle caterpillar (Darna pallivitta): Another one from Taiwan, this is a human health threat (various levels of discomfort ranging to occasional anaphylactic shock and blindness) as well as a serious environmental pest, attacking palms and related plants. Dr. Arnold Hara of UH-CTAHR in Hilo has stated (quoted in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin) that it is a worse pest than the notorious coqui frogs. The vector via which it arrived is obviously nursery material, and it is likely spread daily on Hawaii island (along with coqui, etc.) by infested nurseries. In spite of HDOA efforts at interisland quarantine, Maui HDOA has documented it at least once in a shipment from the Big Island to a Maui nursery. Unless some biocontrol agent is located and processed rapidly through the extremely restrictive system, this pest will soon be in rain forests of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.


Little fire ant (Wasmannia auropunctata): This tiny neotropical ant has devastating effects on biodiversity and human quality-of-life in its invaded range in far-flung parts of the world (e.g., Galapagos, New Caledonia, West Africa). It was first detected here in Puna, Hawaii, in 1999, and HDOA is now reporting it from 50 sites on Hawaii island. Its localized spread after its initial discovery has been associated with transport of nursery plants. There is an HDOA interisland quarantine for little fire ant, and to date it remains confined to Hawaii island, except for a small population on Kauai that is under control but not eradicated. The poorly understood effects of this species in blinding mammals, perhaps by stinging their corneas [e.g., P.W.Walsh, P. Henschel, and K.A. Abernathy, 2004, Logging speeds little red fire ant invasion of Africa. Biotropica 36(4):637-641] are just now starting to appear in housecats in the Puna area of Hawaii island. 


Scale insect of hala (Thysanococcus pandani): Hala (Pandanus tectorius) is common to abundant in many Hawaiian coastal ecosystems and an extremely important plant species for native Hawaiians, who have traditionally used it for cordage, thatching, healing, decoration, etc. The scale insect arrived on the island of Maui in 1995, apparently on a shipment of  hala brought in to a botanical garden from somewhere in the western/southern Pacific. Hala is currently sickly with yellowing leaves over much of windward East Maui, though the insect’s effects have not yet reached the Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park. Hala is an important component of the national parks in the Kona area of Hawaii island. Long-term effects of scale attack on hala populations are likely to be severe, but that is uncertain at this point in time. The South Pacific island of Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, apparently lost its Pandanus in the 1920s from a similar accidental insect introduction.


Cycad scale or sago palm scale (Aulacaspis yamatsui): This hearing is focused on national parks in Hawaii, but my agency, the USGS Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center, also does work in other Pacific islands, including Guam, the location of War in the Pacific National Historical Park. Guam has more than one million trees of the Micronesian endemic cycad Cycas micronesica, a magnificent tree that reaches heights of 80-100 ft, and all currently seem to be at risk from attack by this scale insect. Cycad scale reached Florida, transported on cycads from native Thailand in 1996, reached Hawaii (which has no native cycads) on cultivated cycads from Florida in 1999, and reached Guam from Hawaii in 2003. There are said to be 30 nurseries in Guam that bring in nursery stock from Hawaii. Guam is said to be tightening up its regulations for horticultural imports because of recent pest incursions, including cycad scale and coqui frogs.


And finally I must mention a species not in Hawaii or any Pacific island yet -- the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA, Solenopsis invicta) that is poised to invade from either side of the Pacific Rim – from California (where Hawaii gets most of its goods and where RIFA was first discovered in 1998) and China/Taiwan/Hong Kong (where RIFA first got a foothold in 2004-05). It seems clear that RIFA can invade Hawaii and Pacific islands based on various models of potential habitat, as well as by the fact that it has invaded many Caribbean islands over the past two decades.


Mr. Chairman, I would like to submit for the record as well my article "The Challenge of Effectively Addressing the Threat of Invasive Species to the National Park System.” This was published last fall in the journal Park Science, and I have an electronic copy.  


Note: The views expressed in this testimony are those of the author, given as a conservation scientist in response to Senator Akaka’s questions, and do not necessarily reflect the views of USGS, the Department of the Interior, or the United States Government.