Hawaiian Native Species Now Deemed ‘Invasive’ by State Land Department

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BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – The list of what can be called “invasive” is growing. It now includes everything, even native species. Only humans are excluded from the definition. Funny, because we humans are the real cause of all the problems and admittedly are the most invasive species of them all.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (DLNR OCCL) is proposing new Administrative Rules for chapter 13-5 to make it easier to kill anything you don’t like on any of the 2,000,000 acres of conservation lands statewide. And you will be able to kill anything, anywhere, on any numbers of acres, using poisons and biocontrol insects, fungi, or pathogens.


It would seem that the so-called “Silent Invasion” of invasive plants and animals can now be solved with pesticides and pestilence. We are going from Silent Invasion to Silent Spring.

And the goal is no longer to protect endangered species, or even native species. The goal is to protect “native ecosystems”. You know, those mythical, Edenic places where nothing ever changes and there is no impact from mankind’s interference.

But climates do change. The conditions of the past are not coming back. Modern civilization is not going away. And you cannot recreate Eden with poisons and pestilence.

At a recent public hearing in Hilo regarding the proposed rule changes, Sam Lemmo, who runs the DLNR OCCL, admitted that their new definition of “invasive species” is controversial. The old definition of an invasive species was an alien species that is a threat to human health, the environment, or the economy. The proposed new definition is this: “Invasive species” means any plant, plant pest, noxious weed, microorganism, biological control organism, or animal than can directly or indirectly injure or cause damage to the environment or to the interests of agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture, animal or public health, native species, natural resources, irrigation, or navigation, or otherwise defined in §520A-2, HRS.”

Deciding on “what belongs” in Hawaii was always a value judgment. Once you single out any plant or animal for extermination it is a slippery slope. And the definition of invasive has definitely slipped down the slope. Now, even native species can be called invasive.

According to the proposed rules, anyone wanting to poison, chainsaw, or release biocontrol agents against any species that that person believes qualifies under the “invasive” definition can do so WITHOUT A PERMIT OR EVEN LETTING THE DLNR KNOW.

This means all birds are invasive if they eat anything agricultural or compete in any way with any native species or bird or insect. Cats, dogs, pigs, sheep, goats, wild horses and donkeys, can all be poisoned or infected with biocontrol agents without a permit or review. Native species can be killed if they affect the interests of agriculture. Native fish can be poisoned if they compete with farmed fish. Coral can be killed if it interferes with the interests of navigation.

According to Sam Lemmo, his OCCL office is short staffed and cannot be burdened with every request for landscaping on conservation lands, even those in the protective subzone, which includes our most pristine coastlines and forests. The new rules will make it easier for the DLNR staff.

But what will it do to the environment, and to those who love it?

Essentially, the DLNR is saying to kill first and answer questions later, if anyone catches you. Of course, the damage will already have been done. And it is hard to see anyone being prosecuted since the rules give a green light to do whatever you want against whatever you don’t like.

As for environmental assessments bringing transparency and accountability to the process, the DLNR is currently requesting the Environmental Council to allow ALL invasive species control or eradication on any DLNR lands to be exempted from needing an environmental assessment or public comment, with the implicit assumption that anything done to kill an invasive is good, even if it uses poisons, bulldozers, and biocontrol. (The request for this exemption has not yet been reviewed by the Environmental Council as of February 1, 2011.)

Never mind the complex interaction between species. Never mind what the public thinks or values. The new catch phrase in environmental circles is “habitat restoration”. The new enemy is anything that “doesn’t belong”. The new targets are anything nonnative, or even native if it is not in the “proper balance”. Nothing can change from the way it was in the past. And the way to make the future the same as the past is with poisons and pestilence.

Of course, pestilence caused by biocontrol may itself need to be controlled with poisons, since many attacked species are desirable, such as fruit trees and ornamentals, and there is no guarantee that biocontrol will not start attacking other nontarget species. So the real weapon in this environmental war centers on killing with chemicals.

Following the money, it is easy to see where these proposed rule changes originated. In the days of Silent Spring, environmentalists awakened an awareness of chemical hazards. To recapture its market, chemical companies conceived a new poster child to promote its poisons – invasive species.

Now, decades later, Monsanto, Dow Elanco, and other agrochemical giants control our environmental and agricultural policy on state and federal levels. Active members of invasive species committees, Monsanto and Dow contribute generously to the Nature Conservancy and other environmental groups, politicians, and heavily lobby government agencies.

It is not surprising that Hawaii does virtually no inspections of agricultural products entering the state. We treat exports for pests, but not imports. This makes no sense for a place that decries invasive species and boasts numerous endangered species. But it makes sense when you realize that prevention brings less revenue than treatment. Those who sell the treatments are clearly invested in problems.

Beware of the chemical-environmental complex.

These companies are the only ones that will profit from this environmental war encouraged by the proposed DLNR rule changes.

In the dark, misty parking lot at the end of the public hearing on these rule changes, I ran into Sam Lemmo, and he made some revealing admissions. He said he was surrounded by people pressuring him to make these rule changes to make eradications easier, and resistance to the proposed rules was making his job difficult, because it wasn’t his decision to make. He reflected for a moment and then said, “I used to be an environmentalist. I guess you can say I sold out.”

He turned and walked to his car as he added, “Don’t trust me”.

I hope he was kidding.

The DLNR OCCL is still accepting comments on its proposed rule changes and holding public hearings.

Speak up now, before it becomes necessary to wear a chemical resistant suit to take a hike in the poisoned park.

Send comments now to Samuel Lemmo, Administrator, Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, Kalanimoku Bldg., 1151 Punchbowl St., Honolulu, Hawaii 96813.

Here is the schedule of the hearings:

  • January 31, 2011 Kaunakakai, Molokai: Mitchell Pauole Center, 90 Ainoa St.
    February 1, 2011 Lihue, Kauai: LihueLibrary, 4344 Hardy St.
  • February 7, 2011 Kona, Hawaii: Mayor’s Conf. Room, 75-5706 Kuakini Hwy, Rm 103
  • February 9, 2011 Honolulu, Oahu: Kalanimoku Bldg., 1151 Punchbowl St., Rm 132

Or write your comments and send to:

William J. Alia, Jr. Chairman
Department of Land and Natural Resources
Samuel Lemmo, Administrator
Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands
Kalanimoku Bldg.
1151 Punchbowl St.
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813