Hawaii is already spending tens of millions of dollars per year dealing with the effects of invasive species and without coordinated action that number will balloon in the coming decades. That was the message from a panel of Hawaii-based experts earlier this week.
The group was assembled as part of the Western Governors' Assocaition conference being held in Kona. Governor David Ige hosted the event and selected invasive species as the theme.
The panel on economic impacts from invasives included officials from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, and the Maui Fram Bureau. Their message was clear: invasives are costing local businesses and governements millions.
The impact is most stark in the agriculture sector. Chris Manfredi, President of the Hawaii Coffee Association, told attendees that Hawaii's high-cost coffee industry was dealt a major blow with the introduction of the coffee berry borer beetle. Quick action from farmers and regulators averted disaster, but the CBB has now spread to all coffee growing regions but Kauai.
Although farmers took a major financial hit from the beetle, the industry has largely survived. Manfredi was far less optimistic about the prospects for survival should a more serious blight arrive in Hawaii. He specifically cited the fungal disese knwon as coffee leaf rust, which has wiped out coffee production in other parts of the world.
Although the damage from invasives is less severe for other crops, the financial impact on farmers can still be serious. Warren Wantanabe of the Maui Farm Bureau recounted having to shut down his third generation family farm, in part due to the impact of invasive species. He noted that Hawaii once produced a sufficient quantity of some winter vegetables to meet internal demand and still export to the mainland U.S. That stopped in the mid-20th Century when spotted wilt and the diamondback moth arrived in Hawaii.
One solution being proposed is to spend more on "pre-border" efforts to prevent invasive species from arriving in Hawaii. Data presented by Kimberly Burnett of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organiztion showed that over a 10-year period the State of Hawaii's biosecurity plan proposes spending about $110 million on border and pre-border activites. That is compared to over $255 million on "post-border" cleanup and remediation.
However those numbers could end up being much higher. One UHERO study estimated the cost of just the top five priority invasvie species to be $83 million between 2011 and 2015. Global supply chains and consumer demand for year-round produce increase the likelihood that the trend of invasvie species introduction will continue.
Watch the WGA Conference workshop on the economics of invasive species.
Watch more workshops from the WGA invasive species conference.