The U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawai‘i, announced last week the approval of $497,000 in federal funding to help combat Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death, the fungal disease that is killing tens of thousands of acres of native forest on the Big Island and threatening to spread to the rest of the state.
Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death threatens the state’s tropical forests and delicate ecosystems, and ultimately could jeopardize local water supplies and Hawaiʻi’s economic vitality. The U.S. Government continues to recognize the seriousness of this invasive species and its potentially devastating impact on Hawaiʻi’s forests and watersheds, according to a state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“This funding from the Interior Department leverages another $673,000 of in-kind federal donations to suppress Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death which could have enormous biological, economic, social and cultural repercussions for the State,” DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said in the release. “We’re extremely appreciative to Senator Schatz, and the Departments of Interior and Agriculture for recognizing that this disease presents an enormous biosecurity risk to Hawaii’i.”
The timing of the funding, just ahead of the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, showed that at all levels of government, there is a “real sense of urgency” for developing treatment protocols to stop the spread of the fungus, Case said.
The Interior Department said the announcement immediately activates an Early Detection Rapid Response Team (EDRR), made up of federal and state agencies, and a consortium of scientists who will continue conducting field surveys for the disease and support critical research to pioneer adaptive treatments.
“This is an ecological emergency, and it requires everyone working together to save Hawai‘i Island’s native forests. I’m pleased to see our federal partners step up to help. The additional funding will make a big difference, and it will give us the tools to understand the disease, develop better management responses, and protect our ‘Ōhiʻa,” Schatz said in a Department of Interior news release.