When Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano initiated "Operation Miconia" in April of 1996, it represented the largest mobilization effort in state history to locate and eradicate an invasive alien weed.
More than a year later Operation Miconia continues, and reports from the field indicate the effort is producing solid results.
"We've mapped all known Miconia infestations and have already reduced many populations," says Mike Wilson, chair of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "The good news is that this is a war we can win. The more sobering news is that successful containment will take close to a decade of persistent effort to achieve."
To assist in that effort, private, county and federal sources have recently committed more than $750,000 toward the Miconia problem, and the state Department of Agriculture recently received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release a new bio-control agent, a Miconia-specific fungus that is a native of Latin America. The Nature Conservancy is helping with overall coordination of the program and is actively engaged in Miconia removal on Maui.
Miconia is a fast-growing tree native to Latin America that produces millions of seeds annually. It grows to 50 feet and casts a dense shade that kills almost everything beneath it. In Tahiti, Miconia is called "the green cancer" because it has rapidly overrun nearly 70% of the island's rain forests.
In its first 15 months, Operation Miconia achieved broad community awareness and support, established accurate, updatable range maps of all known infestations, as well as a reliable, practical system for public reporting of Miconia. Thanks to GST Telecom Hawaii, a toll-free Miconia hot line (1-888-MICONIA) now allows Hawai`i residents to report sightings of this invasive plant.
Lana`i and Moloka`i continue to be free of Miconia. O`ahu and Kaua`i infestations are small and localized, and prospects are very good for complete eradication on those islands with low-cost, persistent effort.
Maui's major infestation near Hana is now under heavy attack by a five-person, full-time field crew. The Maui team expects to complete removal of all established plants from the 300-acre core infestation and complete a systematic search and treatment of plants in a 2,200-acre peripheral area by June 1998. Miconia treatment efforts are also underway in all known satellite populations in Ke`anae, Nahiku, Huelo, and `Iao Valley.
The problem is more serious on the Big Island, where more than 10,000 acres are infested. Experts fear this will expand to cover all wet forests and farmlands within a few decades if the weed is not stopped now. Work completed on the Big Island includes surveys of more than 5,000 acres in North Hilo and Puna, removal of more than 2,000 plants in Onomea, Papa`ikou, and Pahoa, and site inspections of 330 of the 375 Miconia reports called in by Big Island residents.
Increased funding for Miconia control efforts, especially on Maui and the Big Island, is a top campaign priority. Thus far, the Maui County Council has appropriated $234,000 for Miconia work, while on the Big Island, the National Park Service has contributed $30,000 and the County of Hawai`i has appropriated $175,000, including $100,000 toward a two-year, $382,000 Miconia initiative that calls for matching funds.
Some of those matching funds already have been identified, including $50,000 from the U.S. Forest Service and another $25,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. If progress is good, both of these grants are likely to be renewed the following year, for a total of $150,000 That leaves another $132,000 to be raised from private sources.
Meanwhile, in addition to the release of the state's new bio-control agent, the Pacific Science Center at the University of Hawai`i will receive $90,000 in federal funds over the next three years to identify additional potential bio-control agents for Miconia in cooperation with Latin American scientists.
Other federal funds include $120,000 at Haleakala National Park for a three-year project to monitor and evaluate ground and biological control efforts of the Miconia population on Maui. An additional $50,000 in funds from The Nature Conservancy's Mellon Ecosystem Research Program will be used to rapidly detect Miconia trees across large areas of land using aerial imagery.
"From the beginning a key to the success of this operation has been cooperation among federal, state, county and private partners," says Jimmy Nakatani, chair of the state Department of Agriculture. "The number of partners involved is a testament to the seriousness of the Miconia problem and the need to get it under control early."
1997. Timmons, Grady (Director of Community Relations, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii). Operation Miconia: One Year Later. The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii membership newsletter: Volume 16, Number 3, Fall 1997. Posted at www.hear.org with permission of the author.