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Old 11-09-03, 10:40 PM   #1 (permalink)
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New fight against brown tree snakes

While Indonesia is releasing snakes Guam and Hawaii fight the threat of snakes.


Sunday, November 09, 2003
New fight against brown tree snakes

By Kristen Inbody / Stephens Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Hawaii and Guam lawmakers launched a new effort on Friday to attack the brown tree snake.

They introduced a bill in the House that would give federal and state agencies clearer coordination and nearly $20 million dollars a year for six years for projects that aim to keep the threatening reptile out of Hawaii and under control in Guam.

The species has wreaked havoc on flora, fauna, farms and electric lines in Guam, where the snakes arrived via shipping cargo in the 1950s, probably from its native Indonesia.

"There's absolutely no reason the same could not happen to Hawaii if the snake was introduced," said Rep. Ed Case, D - Hawaii, a co - sponsor of the bill with Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D - Hawaii.

The mildly venomous brown tree snake can reach a length of eight feet and has been captured in Hawaii at least six times since the mid - 1980s, all linked to cargo or vehicles from Guam.

Case cited a recent University of Hawaii study estimating that the introduction of the brown tree snake to the islands would cost $28 million to $450 million annually in electrical power outages and damage to agriculture.

In Guam, the snakes cause an average of four power outages a week by coiling on power lines.

The snake has also been a blow to agricultural production by eating young chickens. The snake also kills birds and lizards that would otherwise eat insects damaging to crops.

It has also caused the extinction of nine of Guam's 12 native forest birds.

Guam is "pretty trashed," said Fred Kraus, a research biologist for the Bishop Museum, a research center in Honolulu.

Kraus said when he walked through Guam's forests, he was struck not by the snakes, but by what he didn't find.

"If you walk around it's very obvious there aren't a lot of birds," Kraus said. "It's pretty quiet. There's just nothing there."

He said he can easily imagine it happening to Hawaii.

The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii has been active in the effort to prevent a take - over by the noxious snakes.

Case noted that federal funding has been unstable, which makes it difficult for state and federal agencies to attract quality staff to run anti - snake programs.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D - Hawaii, has been successful in adding $1 million annually to the defense budget to fight the snakes, although that funding has come under fire by Sen. John McCain, R - Ariz., as pork - barrel spending. Other funding comes through grants from various federal agencies.

The war on the brown tree snake began with the Non - indigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990, which expires in March.

The act founded a committee of interested parties, among them the U.S. Coast and Geological Survey, the Department of the Interior, the Agricultural Department, the Navy, Guam's government and other state, federal and private agencies.

"They have tried to coordinate with each other, but there has been no overall policy," Case said. "This is an attempt to pull everything together."

He said the bill will likely be considered in early 2004 by the House Committee on Agricultural, of which Case is a member.
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