BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources has decided that the public has too much say about environmental affairs, especially when it comes to invasive species control and eradication. So they are proposing to take away the public’s right to comment by eliminating environmental assessments.

A 30-day comment period, perhaps the last the public will have on invasive species issues, has just started on July 8, 2010, regarding proposed changes to the DLNR’s list of actions that are exempted from requiring an environmental assessment, or EA. And the major change is to exempt invasive species control and eradication, effectively declaring open season on any species that they decide is “invasive”.

Poisoning mangroves along the shoreline, which the DLNR is currently being sued for allowing without an EA, would be exempted from an EA under the new rules. So would poisoning or chainsawing down thousands of acres of non-native trees in the forests, on conservation lands, or anywhere else controlled by the DLNR and its numerous branches that manage the lands, shoreline, and oceans. If it is called “invasive” or a “weed” it can be attacked by any means without public comment, or even public knowledge.

Here are some of their proposed exemptions from an EA. If anyone, including the government, wants to do any of these things, the DLNR will allow it without any public comment, EA, or announcement that it is going to happen.

Invasive species control using traps, toxicants, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides in accordance with state and federal laws and regulations for the purpose of protecting, preserving, or enhancing native species, native habitat, or native ecosystem function.

This broadly allows any and all “invasive species” activities to be done without public comment or an EA. And the public has no say in what is considered “invasive”. Anyone can slash and burn, poison, bulldoze, biocontrol, or in any other way attack the environment to control “invasive species” without any public or agency review.

Maintenance of state lands to remove weeds, brushes, grass and other unwanted vegetation.

Notice that there is no indication of land size. “Unwanted vegetation”, which could include just about anything except “native” species, could be removed by any method on any number of acres without public comment or an EA.

Actions that are intended to maintain or improve the sustainability of those natural resources under the jurisdiction of the Department, including law enforcement, regulation compliance, resource and environmental monitoring, alien or pest species control, and other administrative and management measures.

This is carte blanche for doing any actions on any alien or pest species on any number of acres by any method.

Pest control. Work under this exemption would be performed by the Department or its contractor. Work would involve placement of approved toxic baits, kill traps, live traps, snares, repellent and using EPA-regulated, commercially-available pesticides. Label instructions will be strictly adhered to. No pesticides will be allowed to enter State waters.

Again, no limitation is placed on the extent of this pest control, or what is considered a “pest”, such as pigs, cats, and non-native birds. Islandwide eradications could be done under this exemption without an EA or public comment.

Animal damage control actions, when needed to maintain resource values, in Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) program areas, including application of approved rodenticides, and ungulate removal.

The public will have no say on eradication projects against cattle, goats, sheep, or any other animal.

New landscaping and irrigation systems within State Parks.

This exemption used to state “on less than 5 acres”, but is now changed to allow new landscaping on any number of acres. This means they could remove any trees they like and replace them with any other trees they like, on any number of acres of park land, without any public comment or review of any kind.

There is more, but the above show the extent to which the DLNR is wanting to allow “invasive species” activities to proceed without any public involvement.

Why the opposition to EA’s? As Sam Lemmo, director of the DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, explained it, environmental assessments are “bureaucratic red tape”. In fact, the DLNR OCCL is currently also proposing changes to its administrative rules to allow “invasive” species to be controlled or eradicated by poison or chainsaws on any number of conservation or shoreline acres without any EA or public comment.

It is clear what is happening to Hawaii. Agriculture and livestock production once reigned supreme, and the environmental laws protected those activities. Now, the paradigm has shifted to conservation and preservation. And the laws are changing to reflect that shift in values.

Agriculture and livestock production are now seen as the enemies of the environment. Agricultural plants, such as strawberry guava, once promoted by the government, are now being attacked by the government. Species that were prized for their beauty, resource value, food value, and ability to grow well in Hawaii are now considered “invasive”, “weeds”, and “pests”. Natural resources are being destroyed, such as strawberry guava and mangroves, because they are non-native and therefore not valued by these native species supremacists.

Blinded by their newly developed hatred for the non-native, these invasive people are opening up our public lands to unchecked eradication and control of species they deem “invasive”, disregarding the potential environmental and cultural impacts of their actions. They are so focused on killing things that they don’t want to take the time to consider what problems they might cause, or whose rights they may be trampling upon.

The government is wanting to turn the environment back into what it was 400 years ago. The people be damned if they disagree and still value any of the numerous introduced species that now make Hawaii a paradise. In the new environmental order, we can’t disagree. There will be no EA, which is all we have to allow us participation in the environmental process.

This government has forgotten that its authority is derived from the people. It is OUR environment. It is OUR government. We must continue to assert our right to be part of the decision making that alters OUR environment. We must demand more EA’s, not fewer. We must let the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC) and the Environmental Council know that we refuse to give up our rights.

Comments should be sent by August 9, to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Engineering Division, Project Planning & Management Branch, ph: 587-0229, fax: 587-0283, email: carty.s.chang@hawaii.gov, and the Office of Environmental Quality Control, 235 South Beretania Street, Honolulu, HI 96813, fax: 586-4185.

You can see all their proposed exemptions to the EA process here: http://oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/Shared%20Documents/Environmental_Notice/current_issue.pdf

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