(BIVN) – Farmers and ranchers are supporting a proposed measure to help fight the spread of the invasive two-lined spittlebug, spreading through Kona ranchlands.
The House ag committee was taking testimony on HB2532, which will appropriate funds to the Department of Agriculture for its efforts to mitigate and control two-lined spittlebug infestations in the State. The bill has also been referred to the House Finance Committee.
From the language of the proposed bill:
SECTION 1. The legislature finds that the two-lined spittlebug, prosapia bicincta, is an invasive insect that attacks key forage grasses used by the livestock ranching industry. In 2016, the State’s first two-lined spittlebug infestation was discovered in Kailua-Kona, on the island of Hawaii, where the pest had damaged nearly two thousand acres of pasture land. Many high-quality pasture grasses, including Bracharia, kikuyu, Pangola, St. Augustine, and Bermuda grass are susceptible to P.bicinta attacks. During heavy infestations, dying plant tissues cascade from the leaves to the roots, ultimately causing whole plant death. The resulting damage does not allow for any regrowth, requiring ranchers to totally replant affected pastures.
The legislature further finds that two-lined spittlebug infestations have reduced the quality of some forage pastures in Hawaii by decreasing their nutritional value, palatability and productivity. Infestations of the pest also promote the establishment of weeds and lower-quality foraging grasses. Monthly surveys carried out since 2017 on the island of Hawaii show that the pest is rapidly expanding its range and now covers more than two hundred and twenty-two square miles.
The legislature recognizes that livestock ranching is a highly productive and extremely valuable industry on all of Hawaii’s major islands. The State’s livestock industry has an estimated annual value of more than $68,000,000, with over one hundred forty-two thousand beef cattle on more than one thousand three hundred ranches. Collectively, these ranches cover nearly twenty-five per cent of the State’s land area.
The legislature also recognizes that the expanding livestock industry serves as an economic engine for the State and a major employer for local communities. This is particularly true on the island of Hawaii, where nearly sixty per cent of the State’s cattle are raised. Additionally, seventy per cent of the beef cattle in Hawaii are raised on sod-forming grasses such as kikuyu and pangola. Consequently, two-lined spittlebugs threaten both job and food security in the State, making it crucial to address infestations and to restrict further spread.
Accordingly, the purpose of this Act is to appropriate funds to mitigate and control the two-lined spittlebug and to fund outreach, education, surveillance, treatment, and pest management protocols.
SECTION 2. There is appropriated out of the general revenues of the State of Hawaii the sum of $1,000,000 or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2020-2021 for the department of agriculture to mitigate and control the two-lined spittlebug. The moneys shall be used to fund recovery efforts, including but not limited to reducing the two-lined spittlebug population using insecticides, integrating weed management measures in affected rangelands, and reseeding pastures damaged by infestations.
The sum appropriated shall be expended by the department of agriculture for the purposes of this Act.
SECTION 3. The department of agriculture shall submit a report of its findings and recommendations, including any proposed legislation, to the legislature no later than twenty days prior to the convening of the regular session of 2021. The report shall document the expenditure of funds and the progress of activities funded by this Act.
SECTION 4. This Act shall take effect on July 1, 2020.
Jim Greenwell, a past President of Palani Ranch and a member of the Board of Directors, traveled to Oʻahu to testify. He also submitted this written testimony in support of the measure:
Palani Ranch in North Kona was one of the ranches where this insect first appeared in 2016.The rapid expansion of the infested area from 2000 acres in 2016 to an estimated 135,000 acres today speaks to the aggressive nature of this bug and the urgency to combat the damage it is causing. The spittlebug totally and quickly is killing our basic grasses (kikuyu and pangola) in the 2000′ to 5000′ elevation range. The resulting bare ground void is immediately filled with useless and rugged invasive species that are tough to eradicate and make recovery of these grasslands extremely challenging.
Much of the rangeland we care for has been decimated by the spittlebug. What was excellent and well managed rangeland with over 95% grass cover and minimal weed infestation four years ago before the spittlebug today has less than 2% grass cover and is totally overun by invasive balckberry, pluchia, thistle, fireweed and other invasives. We are struggling to find spittlebug resistant grass species to replant and and are in search of reclamation strategies that are commercially realistic. It is a race against time.
It is important to remember that ranchers are fundamentally grass farmers. We happen to raise cattle on that grass as that allows us an opportunity to realize some value from the grass we grow as well a to use cattle as a management tool on the land. We are not just concerned about protecting our industry. We are concerned that the value of these lands to the broader community attributable to the ecosystem services that flow from well managed rangeland will be impacted if the grass cover is lost. This includes for example the value of well managed rangelands for soil conservation, watershed protection, carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, and wildfire mitigation.