After 30 years of protecting native animals and plants, the head of Hawaii’s agricultural inspection operation leaves behind a short-handed and beleaguered team today, worried that invading species are slipping into the islands.
“Shipments are backed up but are still being inspected. That’s the good part,” said Domingo Cravalho Jr., who is retiring as inspection and compliance section chief for the state Department of Agriculture. “Because of the lack of resources and lack of inspectors and the reduction in the amount of good inspections, things are getting through. …
“It’s overwhelming at times and some individuals may be overlooking things or bypassing things. Under the circumstances, we just don’t have enough eyes and ears out there.”
For years, coqui frogs have wreaked havoc on the Big Island, keeping many residents awake at night.
And they’ve also popped up in some communities on Oahu, most recently in Waimanalo.
The coqui frogs are no stranger to the islands, but with the recent layoffs of inspectors at the Department of Agriculture, officials fear the invasion could get worse.
Imagine trying to sleep with this noise outside your home.
"If you go at night anywhere from Hilo out to Volcano and Volcano is at 4,000 feet above sea level the noise is deafening and it’s not a very pleasant experience," said Senator Clayton Hee.
Agricultural groups fear state layoffs will backlog shipments
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 08, 2009
Agricultural industry executives worry that Hawaii businesses will wither on the vine and incoming food will rot on the docks if the state goes through with massive layoffs of agriculture inspectors.
Plans call for laying off 50 of the state’s 78 agriculture inspectors, 64 percent of that specialized work force.
Diminished inspection capacity could also cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year if additional invasive species get established, industry officials say.
State inspectors both certify products to be exported out of Hawaii and inspect food and plants being imported into the state.
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
Budget cuts have left California with fewer inspectors and made that state more prone to slap sanctions on importers when pests are discovered. Hawai’i may also lose inspectors if the state lays off workers in November as planned to balance its budget.
Five key agricultural officials sent a warning letter this month to hundreds of Hawai’i growers and shippers who sell flowers, foliage, herbs, vegetables, potted nursery products and fruit, alerting them to the potential risk of not cleaning up their shipments.
"Anyone that currently ships to California can be the ‘last straw’ that triggers the decision by California to impose severe restrictions on the movement of all products from Hawai’i into the California market," the letter states.
CTAHR dean details impacts of ag. inspectors layoffs
Updated at 3:27 am, Thursday, August 20, 2009.
Andrew Hashimoto, dean and director of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, gave the following testimony to the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee about the potential impacts of laying off Department of Agriculture staff.
I am pleased to provide personal testimony relating to the potential impacts on the community and agricultural industry on the Big Island, arising from the anticipated reduction and possible elimination of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s Plant Quarantine Branch. This testimony does not represent the position of the University of Hawaii or CTAHR.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) has 329 “permanent” employees, of which 118 (approximately 36 percent) have received notices for layoff.
The Plant Quarantine (PQ) Branch will be especially hard hit. It has a total of 78 inspectors and 16 technicians (aides).
Of that, 50 inspectors and two technicians (all general funded) have been given notices. The remainder (11 inspectors and 14 technicians) are paid from special funds.
Most of the inspectors to be laid off will be from the neighbor islands. Information on the number of layoffs for each of the other HDOA branches is not known. The impact of the layoff in the PQ branch is discussed.
Should the layoffs go forward in November as planned by Gov. Linda Lingle, not all Maui-based inspectors will disappear, according to Carol Okada, manager of the Plant Quarantine Bureau in the state Department of Agriculture.
There are inspectors in 10 positions covered by special funds who will not be affected, including six funded by the state Department of Transportation. But the six positions paid out of the state’s general fund are on the budget-cutting hit list.
Anna Mae Shishido, Maui County supervisor of the Maui Plant Quarantine Branch, wrote a letter expressing her concern about the impact of the layoffs to two Maui lawmakers – state Sen. J. Kalani English and Rep. Joe Souki.
She said the Transportation Department’s special fund specifies that the six inspectors it pays for would work at the Kahului Airport – which means they wouldn’t do maritime inspections.
As a result, Matson and other containers carrying produce, animal feed and other agricultural material would need to go to Honolulu first for inspection, Shishido said. Diverting that cargo to Oahu would mean extra handling of Maui-bound containers, adding delays and costs for consumers.
The layoffs would also mean that more than two dozen certified nurseries on Maui would no longer be able to self-certify their plant shipments to other states because state inspectors would not be available to conduct semi-annual nursery re-certification inspections, she said.
Shishido said she was alarmed about the potential for infestations of alien species without maritime inspections on Maui.
"We anticipate increased infestations of stinging nettle caterpillars and coqui frogs on Maui and new infestations of little fire ants and the varroa mite, which have not been found here so far," she said. "The safeguards we have worked so hard to put in place will be drastically decreased or completely gone. Maui will be exposed."