Brown tree snake could pose costly threat to Hawaii

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — A state biosecurity plan says the brown tree snake could cause as much as $2 billion each year in damages if introduced to Hawaii.

The snake, which is native to Australia and Papua New Guinea, was accidentally introduced to Guam after World War II.

The invasive species has had a devastating impact on the island’s native bird populations and also costs Guam money because the snakes crawl into electrical transformers and cause blackouts, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported last Monday.

“It’s pretty rare when we have a species that cuts across all issues as a problem,” said Christy Martin of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council.

The estimates cited to deal with a potential brown snake problem in the draft Hawaii Interagency Biosecurity Plan stem from the anticipated costs of establishing eradication programs and outbound cargo inspection plus the economic impacts on Hawaii’s agriculture and tourism sectors.

If Hawaii became known for having brown tree snakes “like Guam has, a lot less people would be inclined to come,” said Shane Siers, Hawaii field station leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center. “And if all the native birds were wiped out, that would diminish the amount of nature enthusiasts visiting.”

The federal. Department of Agriculture spends $5 million annually to keep the brown tree snakes from getting into Guam’s outbound cargo.

Last year, more than 10,000 snakes were removed from areas surrounding Guam’s airports and seaports, Siers said.

Preventing the invasive animal from coming to Hawaii would be “a pretty darn good return on investment,” he said.

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