It takes a lot of noise to stop the spraying of pesticides

Hawaiians have been subjected to more than their fair share of the toxic methods used to eradicate non-native species because the justification for such projects is strongest on islands.  Islands contain the most endemic species, unique to those islands, because they evolved in geographical isolation.  More extinction has occurred on islands than on the mainland of the United States because species that evolved in isolation are more vulnerable to new competition than species that have evolved with more competition.  Theoretically, if you can eradicate a non-native species, it is more possible to prevent reintroduction on an isolated island.

We have reported earlier on Million Trees, a few of the many projects on the Hawaiian Islands to eradicate non-native species:

  • The coqui frog is from Puerto Rico.  There are no native frogs in Hawaii,
    Coqui frog
    Coqui frog

    so the coqui is not competing with a native, which is the usual justification for eradicating a species.  In this case, the promoters of this project claim that the frog is eating all of the insects, depriving other animals of food.   A concentrated caffeine solution has been the poison of choice for the coqui.

  • The strawberry guava is a fruit tree that has been a valuable source of food for both animals and humans.  It was brought to Hawaii by Polynesian ancestors in the distant past.  It is being eradicated with an imported non-native insect.
  • The importation of non-native insects for the purpose of killing a non-native plant has often had unintended consequences.  Although extensive research is done, once introduced, the insect often chooses a host that was not the target species.  Biological control introductions are considered the cause of 15 moth extinctions in Hawaii.

We have also reported that there is considerable push back from Hawaiians who consider some of these species valuable and in any case, don’t appreciate being poisoned.   That push back is the point of this post.

The new threat to the health and safety of Hawaiians

Pineapple and sugar cane plantations were the mainstay of Hawaiian agriculture.  They have moved operations to places where it’s cheaper to do business.  They have been replaced with thousands of acres of corn and soy beans which have been genetically modified to produce plants resistant to herbicides.  The plantations produce seeds, which carry the genetic modification for pesticide resistance, to be sold to farmers all over the world.

These small farms are being replaced by huge fields of corn and soya.  Kauia, Hawaii
These small farms are being replaced by huge fields of corn and soya. Kauia, Hawaii

Hawaii is an attractive place to grow these valuable seeds because the weather allows for three crops to be grown each year.  That not only speeds up production, but also reduces the time needed for testing and development of new hybrids.  Naturally, pesticides are used on those crops.  After all, the crop is immune to the pesticides.

The scale of these operations, their year-around activity, and the pesticides sprayed on the crops have become intolerable to the neighbors of these operations who are bothered by both dust and pesticides.  They have been demanding that the operations be scaled-back or at least controlled.  Naturally, there are also people who are making their living from this profitable enterprise, and these people fight back.

A legislative committee on Kauai considered an ordinance in early October that would have restricted the operations of these companies.  Between 1,500 and 4,000 supporters of the bill demonstrated at that hearing.  Opponents of the bill were said to be more numerous.  The bill was amended and passed by the committee and considered for approval by the legislative body last week.  The hearing started at 9 am and lasted until 3:30 am the following day.  The ordinance was passed as amended:

“The ordinance requires the seed companies to disclose which pesticides they use and establishes no-spray zones around schools, medical facilities, homes, public roads and waterways.  The original bill would also have limited the planting of genetically modified crops, but those provisions were removed during deliberations.”  (1)

These restrictions seem rather minimal, yet it took thousands of people attending several days of hearings to accomplish this small improvement.  That’s the commitment that is required for the public to be heard over the voices of corporate and economic interests.

In the San Francisco Bay Area we marvel that we are unable to convince our public policy makers that they should stop poisoning our public parks.  Supporters of these local projects are not large, powerful corporations, so shouldn’t it be easier to make ourselves heard?  Apparently we are just not making enough noise.  

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(1)    Andrew Pollack, “Limits Approved for Genetically Modified Crops in Kauai, Hawaii,” New York Times, October 16, 2013