(BIVN) – Federal legislation has been introduced to help fund the continued fight against Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, a fungal pathogen that has killed more than a million native ʻōhiʻa trees in Hawaii since its discovery in 2014.
On Wednesday, U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D) and Brian Schatz (D) and Representatives Jill Tokuda (D) and Ed Case (D) introduced The Continued Rapid Ohia Death Response Act of 2023, which “authorizes $55 million in federal funding over the next eleven years to support ongoing efforts by federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), working in partnership with state agencies, to help combat Ohia tree death in Hawaii.”
Specifically, the legislation would:
- Direct the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the U.S. Geological Survey, to continue providing resources for the purposes of researching ROD vectors and transmission;
- Require the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to work with the State of Hawaii and other local stakeholders on ungulate management in control areas on federal, state, and private land;
- Require the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, to continue providing resources to prevent the spread of ROD and restore the native forests in Hawaii, and to also continue to provide financial and staff resources to the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry (IPIF), located in Hilo, to continue research on ROD; and
- Authorize $55 million in appropriations over the next eleven years for both the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to carry out these actions.
“Ohia Lehua are Hawaii’s most abundant native tree, but ROD poses a serious threat to the species’ survival,” said Senator Hirono in a news release. “As ROD continues to decimate Hawaii’s Ohia population, federal support is crucial to combating ROD and protecting Ohia trees across Hawaii. Ohia plays an important role in protecting our native ecosystems and I am proud to lead our delegation in advocating for the federal resources Hawaii needs to prevent further Ohia death and protect our state’s unique biodiversity.”
“I’m proud to join Senator Hirono in co-leading the introduction of the Continued Rapid Ohia Death Response Act, which will unlock federal support to combat the spread of Rapid Ohia Death and restore Hawaii’s ohia forests,” said Representative Jill Tokuda. “Covering nearly one million acres throughout Hawaii, Ohia lehua forms the basis of our watershed, preventing runoff and providing critical habitat for endangered birds like honeycreepers. In recent years, Rapid Ohia Death has devastated too many ohia forests, especially on the Big Island, and its spread throughout Hawaii is deeply troubling. This bill is a step in the right direction to ensure this critical natural and cultural resource is there for the next generation.”
“In order to fight Rapid Ohia Death, we need more resources to research the disease and work to control its spread. Our bill will give us more tools to preserve our Ohia and restore our native forests and ecosystems,” said Senator Schatz.
“Rapid Ohia Death, first detected on Oʻahu just a few years ago, poses a major threat to these precious endemic trees found on tens of thousands of acres throughout the Koʻolau and Waianae mountain ranges,” said Representative Ed Case. “Our measure will help to combat this deadly fungus which left unchecked will devastate not only our most abundant native tree but with it our unique and endangered forest ecosystem.”