J.Kalani English

Environmental force worthy idea

Maui News Editorial
Friday, October 19, 2001

The Hawaii Environmental Work Force is a good example of good ideas arising from bad situations. State Sen. J. Kalani English, who grew up in Hana and still has family ties there, said he is working with state Rep. Brian Schatz, D-Makiki-Tantalus, to push for the work force in next week's special session of the Legislature.

According to English, the Hawaii Environmental Work Force would be patterned after the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps and would put unemployed residents to work on a contract basis eradicating mosquitoes and other invasive pests. The Legislature will be asked to set aside $1.5 million for the program.

"We can create 450 to 480 jobs," English said.

As a general rule, governmental make-work projects are a bad idea and too often end up bloating payrolls. However, funding a program that contracts with individuals for work avoids establishing government positions that would remain on the books long after the need is gone. The idea of a Hawaii Environmental Work Force undoubtedly grew out of the islands' current economic problems and the fear that dengue fever is exacerbating those problems by discouraging tourists to Hawaii in general and to East Maui in particular. Hotel Hana-Maui employees laid off due to the business slump showed the way when they volunteered to help eliminate possible mosquito-breeding sites.

A statewide effort is needed to rid the islands of dengue and the Hawaii Environmental Work Force would be a potent weapon in the fight, even though it would be spread thin. The exciting part of the idea, though, is establishing a mechanism for fighting all invasive pests such as Miconia, fire ants and coqui frogs. This work is being done piecemeal by private and government agencies and is being funded by federal, state and county money. A statewide invasive species police force could focus all the current efforts into a program that would serve the environment and economy well, far into the future.

Hawaii has one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. It also has the highest number of endangered species in the United States. Even though better efforts are needed to stop invasive species from arriving on our shores, the threat will always be there as long as the islands court travelers from around the world.

The Civilian Conservation Corps served its purpose well on Maui, supplying much needed cash to families while doing such things as building the cabins in the crater and planting forests of trees. The Hawaii Environmental Work Force could do even more.

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