By Aline Yamashita
Every morning, we would pass their truck. Animal control officers Vince Salas and Eloy Reyes always smiled good morning. They often have animals in their rusted, tired truck. These officers were a part of the animal health section that not only help with the 60,000 stray animals but also regulate chickens, pigs, cattle, horses and deer.
I was saddened that the gentlemen retired. We thank them for being public servants. Their work increased our safety.
Guam’s natural resources – land, water and air – are on the defense. The Department of Agriculture is charged with keeping our community safe as they keep our properties healthy. A tall order, for sure.
Our coconut trees have taken a beating from rhino beetles. Brown tree snakes make our yards theirs. Wildlife manager Diane Vice recently shared that an estimated 250 to 400 have claimed Cocos Island – and the aspirin in mice remedy isn’t fooling them.
There are fire ants and there is the cycad scale that have given palm trees buzz cuts. Feral pigs are menacing to the point that Sen. Clynt Ridgell introduced a measure that now includes feral pigs on the unprotected species list where restrictions are lifted to capture and control the beasts.
Mannok (chicken) should be listed as an invasive species. On the other hand, between the chickens and pigs, we shouldn’t have a hunger problem.
An unintended consequence of the pandemic is the appreciation for agriculture. The possibility of a food shortage scared us. Chelsea Muna-Brecht, agriculture director, nods at this. Strengthening the agriculture development section is a high priority so that farmers are better supported. She just hired the first employee since 1991.
Meanwhile, John Borja, chief of agriculture development strategy, continues to do what he can as he shares his deep knowledge and wide experience.
Such experience base is visible as you listen to the agriculture department’s tireless staff.
Ever since, they worked with fishers and farmers, probably the hardest workers who know their resources like the backs of their hands. They know when to fish and when to plant. They know the moon phases and the sunrises. They have the greatest satisfaction when they catch and when they harvest. And they’re probably the most stubborn folks around. They have to be to survive and make ends meet.
It’s good that Manny Duenas, president of Fishermen’s Coop, ensures voices are heard. It’s also good that Mike Aguon has taken the helm as president of the Farmers’ Coop. One can expect good outcomes from these leaders.
Strengthened laws help. P.L. 36–10 sets penalties for the theft of livestock or agricultural products. Senator Ridgell sends the message that the hard work of farmers is protected by law.
P.L. 36-24 develops a registry for bona fide farmers so they’re identified as a group to be worked with and respected. Ridgell knows that inclusion is a key ingredient for progress.
Tino Aguon and Jay Gutierrez, chiefs of Aquatic Wildlife Resources, have always been at the table and at the shores listening and trying to mitigate the change issues upon us. So has biologist Brent Tibbitts, who continuously informs the community about jellyfish, man-o-war and other hazards found in our waters. Their patient leadership is appreciated.
Change just isn’t easy. At the forefront of trying to change burning habits is the Forestry Unit. The forestry aides work tirelessly as they help the Guam Fire Department put out fires while they also protect preserves and public forests. Christine Fejeran, forestry unit chief, constantly worries about our ever-present fire conditions – sweltering heat, winds, dry conditions, flickered cigarettes, limited manpower. There were 329 fires in a four-month period in 2020.
Any leader will share that it’s always about the people. So, it’s good that Director Muna-Brecht and her deputy, Adrian Cruz, not only intelligent and hard-working, they also enjoy working with people.
As they continue to work with all partners, Guam will see heightened sustainability, restorative agriculture, food security, promising industries – as Guam’s agriculture renaissance makes the platform. Perhaps, the Blue Continent is revitalized.
Aline Yamashita is a mom, a teacher and former senator. She served in the 31st and 32 Guam Legislatures. You may write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.