Invasive Species Watchdogs Score An FY09 ‘Play Of The Day’
But Will A Reduced Workforce Be Enough To Keep The Pests Out Of Honolulu?
By Jeff Marchesseault
GUAM – When things go wrong on Guam, we blame it on the snakes. From sizzled-out power lines to vanishing bird populations — brown tree snakes take the fall.
But at least 22 Hawaii agricultural inspectors actually have reason to celebrate the invasive species this month. Obviously not for the problems these pesky reptiles could cause in Hawaii if feral breeding ever took hold. But because the fear of those very problems will actually give these border protectors something worthwhile to do now that their jobs have been saved from the budget chopping block.
Faced with the prospect of losing their positions at the end of this fiscal year due to the Aloha State’s $900 million shortfall, the 22 were among 50 inspectors slated for furlough.
But not anymore, according to the Honolulu Advertiser.
The Hawaii Invasive Species Council has approved the use of $600,000 in invasive species prevention funds to retain positions it deems critical. State budgeteers have also decided that $1.2 million will be transferred from the Pest Inspection Quarantine and Eradication Special Fund to help salvage inspector jobs from the state’s force reduction list.
But even with the handful of saved inspector jobs de-listed, agriculture officials are concerned that the state’s borders could still be compromised.
The Honolulu Advertiser reports:
The money will cover the 22 positions for one year.
While the retention of the 22 inspectors will help the state continue to monitor ports statewide, the department said its inspection capabilities will still be "significantly decreased from current levels" as the number of inspectors across the state drops from 83 to 55.
The department said inspectors will focus on incoming cargo from Guam to prevent the introduction of the brown tree snake, as well as on food for human consumption and animal feed.
In a statement issued yesterday, Hawai’i Board of Agriculture chairwoman Sandra Lee Kunimoto said: "The department continues to look for alternative sources of funding. In addition, we are working on increasing coordination of inspection services to make the most efficient use of our work force and minimize the disruption to our important agricultural, food and shipping industries."