No Pest Zone
MoMISC connects with culture.
For years, the Molokai branch of the Maui Invasive Species Committee, otherwise known as MoMISC, has battled stubborn invasive species with science and technology. But when science just isn’t enough, Molokai’s environmental crusaders have begun using cultural might.
The eco-crew recently headed to privately owned forest acreage to expunge the area of albizia, a large and fast-growing tree that has begun dominating other island’s lowland forests. Before beginning removal of the pest, they sought the advice of the cultural caretaker of the site.
They began using Hawaiian protocol; that is, asking the site’s ancestors for permission to enter, and thanking the forest for its contribution to the environment. Finally, they asked the ancestors to keep the crew safe and successful in their endeavors.
Afterwards, the field staff reported to MoMISC that it was an “exceptional opportunity to practice traditional Hawaiian protocols while [protecting] Molokai’s native forests.”
The project was 100 percent successful – and MoMISC is using this as a model for future projects according to their report to the Department of Agriculture – Forest Service.
“It was eye-opening for them,” said Lori Buchanan, head of MoMISC. “They went out with more compassion for the work that they do, which is the whole point.”
Even better, Buchanan is encouraging all the islands’ invasive species committees to take this approach by sharing their experiences at the Hawaii Conservation Alliance Conference this week in Oahu.
She added that it may be a difficult sell to the science-minded crowd as it is difficult to measure the spiritual component. But she said these conservation workers have the right intentions.
“Working in conservation, working malama `aina is always pono,” she said.
MoMISC has been hard at work with many pest species targeted for elimination. One disease unfortunately has a popular host – banana bunchy top disease.
Convincing landowners to remove or treat infected trees is difficult because the fruit is an important food for some and an income staple for others.
Earlier this year, a thousand properties with banana trees were surveyed on Molokai with the help of the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC). of the thousand properties only 21 had infected trees.. Buchanan said they did a “fair job” containing the disease to sites in Kualapu`u and Ho`olehua.
The disease shows itself when the banana tree fails to produce fruit, or looks crinkly or bunchy. The infected trees then become a harbor for sap-sucking insects that spread the disease around the island.
Buchanan said landowners should call MoMISC at their office at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) if they suspect anything – MoMISC has the equipment to treat and the experience to diagnose.
Taking it to the Sea
MoMISC is also the only invasive species committee in Hawaii heading into the water. There has been a mangrove jellyfish infestation at the Kaunakakai Wharf lately, and after a young boy and his dad brought in a jelly that stung them, Buchanan didn’t want anyone else hurt.
“We’ve become the agency to report to when something weird shows up,” she said.
The jellyfish were hanging out in the public swim area, so the MoMISC crew surveyed and removed the jellies from the pier to the Canoe Shack. Buchanan said she hopes users of the area can continue the surveying.
MoMISC has been attacking invasive species on Molokai for around 10 years, and has been very successful keeping the bad diseases and pests that plague Maui and Hawaii Island away from Molokai for the most part.
Ed Misaki, director of Molokai’s programs at TNC, said because his organization’s work coincides with MoMISC duties, working together keeps diseases like the Australian tree fern from becoming a big problem like on other islands. TNC protects three preserves on Molokai, covering 9,000 acres.
“If you really want to see what Hawaii used to be like, the mountains were the last places to be developed or impacted [by people],” Misaki said. “90 percent of [Hawaii’s] original ecosystem is gone.”
Diseases and invasive species often spread island-to-island, and both Buchanan and Misaki said it’s important to keep Molokai pure.
“Hawaii is the most isolated group of islands in the world,” Misaki said. “It took a great effort more than anywhere else” for a species to establish itself.
Buchanan said Molokai’s resilience has kept MoMISC afloat among budget cuts, with the help of her MoMISC coworker, Kamalani Pali, and partners like TNC.
“We’re doing whatever it takes.”
Top 5 Invasive Species
Giant reed – Two known populations on south side, monitoring and maintenance is ongoing. Harm: fire hazard when dry.
Australian tree fern – No wild infestations, but planted on private land. Harm: large, fast growing fern that displaces native species.
Albizia – Found on private land in low-lying forest. Harm: large, fast growing tree that displaces native species and fragile branches cause damage.
Barbados gooseberry – Present in Halawa Valley. Harm: forms dense, thorny thickets in low elevations, overgrows and replaces other plants.
New Zealand flax – Present in native high-elevation ohia-uluhe rainforest in Kamakou Reserve, Puu Kauwa, Molokai Forest. Harm: crowds vegetation and blocks sunlight.
Questions or to report a species, call Lori Buchanan at (808) 553-5236 or visit http://www.hawaiiinvasivespecies.org/iscs/momisc/