In September of 2011, the Weeklyran a piece highlighting one of Hawaii’s most dangerous invasive threats: the dreaded brown tree snake. Following up on Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s declaration in his New Day Plan about potentially reinstating the snake detector dog program–a program that had dogs sniffing out snake stowaways on cargo flights and vessels en route from Guam–House Rep. Barbara Marumoto (Kalani Valley-Diamond Head) is introducing legislation this year that may actually bring back the dogs.
“I’ve thrown in two bills,” says Marumoto. “The first would restore three positions in the Department of Agriculture–and these are dog handlers.”
The bill in question–HB1747–would appropriate $180,552 of the state’s general revenues to restore three Department of Agriculture (DOA) inspector positions, but still leaves out the most important part: the dogs. When asked what happened to the dogs that were originally used for the program before it was cut in 2009, Marumoto regretfully says they were given away.
“But we have second bill which maybe won’t cost as much,” Marumoto continues, referring to HB1748. “It would enable a private dog handler to quickly train dogs to go after brown tree snakes. This could get up and running very quickly.”
According to Marumoto, HB1748 would establish an invasive species detection and prevention pilot program within the DOA that would allow private dog handlers to train almost any dog to detect brown tree snakes as well as cross-train them to detect other invasive species like coqui frogs and the rosy wolf snail.
“They get dogs from the pound and train them,” she says, adding that almost any dog is capable of being trained. “Ideally beagles, but then, you don’t see to many beagles in the pound.”
Brown tree snakes have already severely affected Guam, having killed off 10 of its 13 native bird species, causing costly power outages and keeping hospitals busy treating bites from the mildly venomous reptile. Thanks to a new military buildup on Guam, there will be more cargo traffic than ever between the territory and the Islands.
HB1748 promises an innovative approach to a very serious problem, allowing the private sector to contribute and help out the severely underfunded DOA. Imagine a virtual army of sniffing dogs individually owned and living in every neighborhood in Hawaii, each trained to detect the presence of multiple invasive species and alert its owner, who would, in turn, then call a DOA inspector. Now that is kokua.