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  • By Pacific Island Times Staff

Interior provides $4M to help island territories eradicate invasive species

The Department of the Interior has announced grants of approximately $4 million for several invasive species prevention and control initiatives in the U.S. insular areas.

Funding has been provided to continue support in controlling the brown tree snake, Boiga irregularis, on Guam and prevent its spread to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Hawaii, and the larger Micronesian region. Funding is also provided to combat infestations of the Lopa tree, Adenanthera pavonina; to reduce impacts of invasive birds and restore wetland areas on Nuu’uli in American Samoa; and to combat infestations of the little fire ant, Wasmannia auropunctata, on Guam.

“Invasive species, of which the brown tree snake is the most widely known in the Pacific region, have had damaging effects on the fragile ecosystems in the islands,” Interior Acting Assistant Secretary Nikolao Pula said. “It is critical to protect, build resilience, and restore natural resources that provide the foundation for people’s livelihood and stability in these islands.”

In order to prevent, eradicate, and control invasive species as well as to protect and restore natural and cultural resources from the effects of invasive species, the Governors of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands all signed a Memorandum of Understanding last December with the Office of Insular Affairs creating the U.S. Territories Invasive Species Coordinating Committee. Each territory has appointed an official to the committee and has published a territorial invasive species management plan.

The Office of Insular Affairs also collaborates closely with the National Invasive Species Council Secretariat. The council, an interdepartmental body comprised of senior federal officials, provides the high-level vision and leadership necessary to sustain and expand federal efforts to safeguard interests of the United States by preventing, eradicating, and controlling invasive species, as well as restoring ecosystems and other assets impacted by invasive species. On behalf of the Department of the Navy and other relevant federal agencies, the NISC Secretariat is coordinating an update to the Regional Biosecurity Plan for Micronesia and Hawaii, which is due in March 2018 and every three years thereafter. The plan update will take the new territory invasive species plans, as well as a recently released Hawaii biosecurity plan, into careful consideration.

Projects funded in 2017:

• Brown Tree Snake Control and Prevention $3,548,057 – Funds will be provided for continued coordination of the program, assessment of BTS populations after poisoned bait delivery, as well as control, containment and rapid response to neighboring islands. The BTS program aims to prevent dispersal of BTS from Guam to other vulnerable geographic areas and to ultimately eradicate existing or newly established populations. Funding includes approximately $1 million which was provided at the beginning of the fiscal year to prevent disruption in operations.

From January to March 2017, more than 400 BTS were caught and eliminated. This invasive species, which was inadvertently introduced on Guam during World War II, has caused the extinction of many native and endemic species of birds and lizards on the island, and cascading ecological effects on other native plants and animals. The BTS has also disrupted economic activity by causing power outages, and been dangerous to human infants who have been poisoned by the snake’s bite. This collaborative effort involves several federal agencies, state and territorial governments. These grants are the latest in more than two decades of federal efforts to assist the local government with technical and financial support in BTS eradication.

• Eradicate the Lopa Tree in American Samoa $397,362 - The American Samoa Government and the National Park of American Samoa are collaborating to completely eliminate the Lopa tree from approximately 3,058 acres on Ofu and Olosega Islands. This is the final phase of a project that has involved village leaders, community members and youth and has been successful in removing more than 31,454 Tamaligi and Lopa trees across the Tutuila and Ta’u Islands reclaiming over 14,000 acres of rainforest in American Samoa. The native forests provide critical food and medicinal resources, protection for native plants and animal species, and protection against storms. Funds will also be used to curb spread of the non-native Myna and Bulbul, birds intentionally introduced to control insects but which have since overtaken native bird populations in numbers and harbor disease and parasites. A third component of the project is to conduct stream and wetland restoration and clean up – restoring native plants and removing non-native weeds. Restorations will restore the wetland and rainforest canopies, reduce soil erosion, restore food and habitat, as well as prevent runoff from damaging coastal resources.

• Combat Little Fire Ant Infestation on Guam - $250,000 – The University of Guam College of Natural and Applied Sciences and the National Park Service War in the Pacific National Historical Park are collaborating to counter an infestation of little fire ants on Guam. Congress made available a one-time amount of $250,000 in the FY 2017 budget towards the eradication of invasive species in the U.S. insular areas which will be used for the little fire ant project.

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