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by Lindsey Rowland

Like all non-native invasive species, the weeds suffocate native plants by taking their space, water, and nutrients.

At Kane‘ohe’s Marine Corp Base Hawai‘i, mangrove trees form dense stands that choke waterways, stagnate water that encourages mosquito breeding, and contributes to flooding. Mangrove trees also conceal intruders, which can impede security measures needed for base protection.

On Guam, the proliferation of the brown tree snake poses a serious threat to Hawai‘i if inspections of military craft and cargo are not done properly. The introduction of the brown tree snake to O‘ahu would be detrimental to many local species.

Hawai‘i is one of the most fragile habitats on Earth, with roughly 10,000 species that can only be found in Hawai‘i. But on the flip side, some 5,000 invasive species have found a home here too. This is not only a problem in Hawai‘i.

It is especially troublesome for military installations all over the country because they have to be mobile and few are stationed in one place long enough to get involved with preserving the local habitat.

“ Invasive species are putting America’s natural heritage in danger,” said Corry Westbrook, legislative representative for wildlife conservation at the National Wildlife Federation. “They are taking hold and pushing out native plants and wildlife.”

The invasive species problem not only affects the ecosystem but also the health and welfare of U.S. military forces.

“ The U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest landowners in the country, managing more than 400 major installations that encompass 25 million acres. Military installation managers are challenged not only to be responsible stewards of these lands, but to do so in ways that supports the primary military mission of their installation,” said a report done by the National Wildlife Federation in conjuction with the Department of Defense.

Marine Corp Base Hawai‘i has decided to combat this problem head on. “The Marines are the only ones tracking how much they spend on removing invasive species,” said Westbrook. “They are educating soldiers on preventing the spreading of invasive species.” MCBH has one of the best programs as far as education and prevention, she added.

MCBH has linked up with the Conservation Council of Hawai‘i to pool funds for invasive species removal. A project called the “Mud Opts” which uses military equipment to fight invasive species, has become an annual event.

“ The Marines use their Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs) to drive through the mudflats of Nu‘upia Pond, a giant wetland that has an overgrowth of pickleweed. The Marines get to train and combat invasive species at the same time,” said Heidi Hirsh, natural resources specialists at MCBH. This project usually lasts two to three days. The AAVs destroy the pickleweed by crushing it and then open up waterways to allow Hawaiian stilt birds a better opportunity for nesting and feeding.
The need to remove the mangrove trees sparked another project. “We had a mango-busters coalition, got community together, met at a park; the course of action was removing mangrove trees from the MCBH,” Hirsh said. “The Marines spent $20 million to remove mangrove trees from the rivers. They reinvade though, by seeds floating down the river,” Hirsh added.

Another problem for MCBH is the fountain grass: “It’s flammable. It grows on runways, and when jets take off, it starts on fire. We need to control it,” said Hirsh. She has proposed a study to see what can be done to fight the fountain grass.

Ongoing Fight

The military is also responsible for making sure the brown tree snake from Guam does not make it to Hawai‘i on military cargo planes. Military bases on Guam have “snake free” zones where planes are loaded, with fencing around them to ensure snakes do not get into cargo. But more needs to be done.
“ The Department of Defense is not fully cooperating,” said Majorie Ziegler, executive director for the Conservation Council of Hawai‘i, referring to the Guam situation. “Serious funding and serious increase in staff needs to happen. The military could easily double its funding and still have more to do. It’s petty cash, chump change for the military, but it is not being allocated correctly,” she said.
Private industries are still a problem,” Westbrook said. “The military on Guam can do a good job, but some private company across the island will mess up and it will still come down on the military. Everyone needs to be aware of this problem, with prescreening, education outreach, and even when landscaping your backyard.”

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