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State seeks $20M to battle rapid ohia death

  • COURTESY KAUAI INVASIVE SPECIES COMMITTEE
                                A tree possibly infected by rapid ohia death is seen in December 2018 from a helicopter during a survey of the disease’s possible spread on Kauai. State officials are seeking $20 million to battle the disease in Hawaii.

    COURTESY KAUAI INVASIVE SPECIES COMMITTEE

    A tree possibly infected by rapid ohia death is seen in December 2018 from a helicopter during a survey of the disease’s possible spread on Kauai. State officials are seeking $20 million to battle the disease in Hawaii.

Hawaii officials are seeking $4 million per year over the next five years — or $20 million — in order to effectively combat Rapid Ohia Death.

For many years, the fungal blight, which has decimated hundreds of acres of native forest in Hawaii, had only been detected on Hawaii island, but has recently been found on Kauai, Oahu and Maui.

In November of last year, an aerial survey of Oahu found the isle’s fourth detection of Rapid Ohia Death at the Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve.

Previously, it had also been detected on Kamehameha Schools land in the Koolaus above Pearl City and twice in residential areas of Windward Oahu.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources included the dollar figure in an update of the original strategic response plan for the years 2020-2024, noting many challenges ahead.

The amount is nearly double what the state currently has had to work with the past few years — between $2 to $2.5 million a year – shared across various agencies.

“A lot of the increase has to do with the increasing capacity statewide,” said Rob Hauff, DLNR state protection forester. “When we wrote the 2016 plan, the disease had only been detected on Hawaii island.”

Funds will be requested from the Hawaii State Legislature, he said, but come from a combination of sources that include county monies, federal grants, and private donations.

The updated plan, released earlier this month, calls for the additional funds to continue work towards understanding the microscopic fungi that cause ROD, including their biology, impact and movement in individual trees, and dispersal patterns.

Top priorities include aerial surveys and disease diagnostics.

The state continues working with the University of Hawaii-Hilo’s Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab to find more efficient ways to survey forests for ROD, using a combination of drones and cameras on fixed-wing aircraft to gather data. It is also looking into image-recognition software that can pinpoint dead ohia in photographs.

Other novel prevention efforts include the use of dog detection teams to find ROD. Some “proof-of-concept” work has already been done on dog detection work over the past three years, he said. The next step is to make it operational, Hauff said.

A statewide ROD Working Group continues to lead response efforts, but each isle has also formed multi-agency working groups to exchange information and to respond swiftly to new detections of the disease.

Public education, engagement and outreach are also “invaluable” to efforts to prevent the spread of ROD.

The plan emphasized that all efforts “can, and must continue, in order to protect, as fully as possible, Hawaii’s critically important, ohia-dominated native forests.”

“I think that we’re still learning a lot and these are complex issues, so the research is necessary,” said Hauff. “Our surveying has been successful in detecting new outbreaks and we’ve developed capacity to respond accordingly when there have been new detections. In order to continue that, we’re going to need additional resources.”

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