J.Kalani English

Eco-police force needed on Maui

Maui News Editorial
Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Act 004 (House Bill 15), the measure pushed by Maui's Sen. J. Kalani English, was signed into law by Gov. Ben Cayetano last weekend, along with what his office calls "most of the bills passed by the Legislature in the special session to address the economic aftereffects of Sept. 11."

Act 004, which went into effect with the governor's signature, appropriates $1.5 million to establish "an emergency environmental work force for short-term employment for individuals who have lost their jobs because of Hawaii's recent economic turndown."

The goal of the work force, beyond supplying wages for the out-of-work, is to "isolate the spread of dengue fever; eradicate the miconia plant and other invasive plants; and reduce coqui frog and fire ant populations."

The environmental work force was one of the few efforts of the special session that deserve wholehearted support. Alien species will always be a threat to the islands' ecosystems. Efforts to root out established pests such as the mosquito, miconia, fountain grass, pigs, goats and axis deer have been piecemeal efforts spread across several federal, state, county and private nonprofit organizations.

The work force could become an established alien species search-and-destroy unit, although the current measure is limited to a three-month period with from 400 to 450 individuals being hired on a contract basis. The program has been handed off to a self-supporting state agency "attached to the University of Hawaii for administrative purposes." The Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii, established in 1965 by the Legislature, has been charged with setting up the environmental work force and deploying the employees "to all island mayors certifying a need" for the work force.

A working plan is supposed to be developed by the Research Corporation and the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit of the University of Hawaii.

Sen. English can be expected to keep an eye on this program, which needs to be implemented in days. The dengue fever effort, provisionally successful up to this point, should be a spur to fast action, but it is no guarantee. Judging from Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris' pre-gubernatorial TV campaign, it's a safe assumption that the city and county will be jumping on the Research Corporation for as much of the work force as it can get.

Mayor James "Kimo" Apana's administration has acquitted itself well in fighting dengue fever mosquitoes, and it needs to quickly do the paperwork necessary to get a Maui County contingent of the environmental work force established and, perhaps, turned into a permanent program.

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