Hawai‘i Delegation hopes to secure federal funding to combat Rapid Ohia Death
The Hawai‘i Delegation hopes to secure federal funding to support efforts in combating Rapid Ohia Death, a fungus that is decimating the state’s most abundant native tree.
On Wednesday, U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono, and Brian Schatz, and Representatives Jill Tokuda, and Ed Case introduced legislation to combat Rapid Ohia Death. The Continued Rapid Ohia Death Response Act of 2023 would authorize $55 million in federal funding over the next 11 years to support ongoing efforts by federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service, working in partnership with state agencies, to help combat Ohia tree death in Hawai‘i.
This funding also includes providing continued financial and staff resources to the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, located in Hilo, to continue research on Rapid Ohia Death.
The legislation is led by Sen. Hirono in the Senate and Rep. Tokuda in the House. Sen. Hirono said Rapid Ohia Death poses a serious threat to the tree’s survival, adding federal support is crucial to combating this fungus.
“Ohia plays an important role in protecting our native ecosystems and I am proud to lead our delegation in advocating for the federal resources Hawai‘i needs to prevent further Ohia death and protect our state’s unique biodiversity,” the senator said.
Since its discovery in 2014, Rapid Ohia Death has killed more than a million Ohia trees in the state of Hawai‘i. Over the past nine years, the fungus has been detected on Hawai‘i Island, Kaua‘i, Maui and O‘ahu. In that time, the U.S. Forest Service partnered with the State of Hawaii and the U.S. Department of the Interior in efforts to detect and respond to the spread of the disease.
“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 Sen. Schatz.
the Continued Rapid Ohia Death Response Act of 2023 would support these ongoing efforts by:
- Directing the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the U.S. Geological Survey, to continue providing resources for the purposes of researching Rapid Ohia Death vectors and transmission.
- Requiring the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to work with the State of Hawai‘i and other local stakeholders on ungulate management in control areas on federal, state, and private land.
- Requiring 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 Hawai‘i.
- Authorizing $55 million in appropriations over the next 11 years for both the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to carry out these actions.
Rep. Tokuda said the Continued Rapid Ohia Death Response Act would unlock federal support to combat the spread of Rapid Ohia Death and restore Hawai‘i’s ohia forests.
“Covering nearly one million acres throughout Hawai‘i, Ohia lehua forms the basis of our watershed, preventing runoff and providing critical habitat for endangered birds like honeycreepers,” Rep. Tokuda explained. “In recent years, Rapid Ohia Death has devastated too many ohia forests, especially on the Big Island, and its spread throughout Hawai‘i is deeply troubling.”
This bill, the representative added, is a step in the right direction to ensure this critical natural and cultural resource is there for the next generation.
“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 Rep. 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.”