(BIVN) – Senator Mazie Hirono had a chance to question USDA Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen Tuesday on a number of topics important to Hawaiʻi.
The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing today to examine President Trump’s FY 2021 budget request for the USDA Forest Service.
Christiansen, the Chief of the USDA Forest Service, answered questions from the senate panel, including Hirono.
“Bio security is of great importance to Hawaiʻi and the Pacific region,” Hirono stated, “and of course by predicting our forest and environment from invasive species we are also reducing the likelihood that these pests make their way to the mainland. Unfortunately, our current bio-control facilities in Hawaiʻi that are utilized by both the State and Forest Service are outdated ,and we are in need of a new state-of-the-art biosecurity research facility jointly owned and managed by the state and federal partners, including the Forest Service, that would allow our researchers to test different bio control methods for combating some of the world’s worst pests.”
“The State has allocated some $180,000 for planning and scoping the
possibility of a facility but federal support is currently needed,” Hirono said. “I’d like your commitment to work with me and my staff in exploring the possibility of a new bio control research facility in Hawaiʻi. Because we are like the invasive species capital of the country.”
“Gateway, how’s that?” Christiansen responded, to which Hirono agreed. “We appreciate your leadership on this and and Hawaiʻi stance on this and I’d be happy to work with you to see what we can do,” the USDA Forest Service Chief said.
“I also want to thank you for the interagency cooperation that has gone into helping Hawaiʻi combat a pathogen that has been devastating the native ʻōhiʻa trees called Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death,” Hirono said, “and you mentioned that our forests account for over a vast majority of the nation’s drinking water and that’s certainly the case with our ʻōhiʻa forests because they’re part of watersheds. Money from the state and private forestry account has been critical to helping our folks on the ground in Hawaiʻi address Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, ROD.”
“I’m disappointed to see that the President’s budget makes severe cuts to a program that is so important to Hawaiʻi, and I’ll work with my colleagues in Congress to see that the program is funded more adequately,” Hirono said. “So, along those lines, I appreciate your support for a forest pathologist at the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry but Hawaiʻi is in desperate need of that position becoming permanent so they can support our state biosecurity plan and help address existing and emergency emerging pests and pathogens such as Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death and support for this position would be leveraged with funds from the University of Hawaiʻi and the state of Hawaiʻi.”
“I’d like your commitment to work with me and my staff to see about establishing a permanent jointly funded forest pathologist in Hawaiʻi,” Hirono told Christiansen.
“We’d be happy to work you with on that,” Christiansen answered. “There’s a great multi-agency effort and we are committed to be remain a part of it.”
“The president’s budget proposes closing the Pacific Southwest Research Station which oversees research and development in California, Hawaiʻi and the U.S. affiliated Pacific Islands,” Hirono continued, “and merging it with the Pacific Northwest Research Station. And while the Forest Service knows that this closure will not result in the cessation of research in that region, it is not clear what this proposal specifically means for the future of the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, or IPIF, in Hawaiʻi. Will you have experts on your staff brief my staff on any impacts of this proposed closure on the Pacific Islands as well as the future that the Forest Service envisions for IPIF?”
“Absolutely,” Christiansen answered, “I have been out to IPIF and I have personally seen how integrated they are and we’d be happy to work with your staff.”