STRAWBERRY GUAVA BIOCONTROL PLAN FULL OF BUGS
Sydney Ross Singer
President, Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc.
Residents of Hawaii are struggling against a community of government workers who are doing and saying whatever they can to get the public to hate the strawberry guava (waiawi), and love an invasive scale insect from Brazil (Tectococcus ovatus) that they want to release to attack it. They have been planning this insect release for over ten years, and only now have to deal with justified public outrage over this absurd plan.
Those arguing for the insect use emotional appeals that suggest that its either release the scale insect, or lose the native forests. However, the facts show that the insect can be the worst thing for native forests, as well as for the people and wildlife who use the waiawi. Here are some obvious problems with this proposed insect introduction.
1. Insects can evolve quickly. For example, some populations of soapberry bugs in Florida have shifted from feeding on a native plant, the balloon vine, to the goldenrain tree, introduced from Asia by landscapers in the 1950s. In five decades, the smaller goldenrain seeds have driven the evolution of smaller mouthparts in the bugs, along with a host of other changes. The lesson here is that, within decades, the Brazilian scale may evolve to attack other plant species in Hawaii including native species and important food crops!
2. The Brazilian scale would be introduced without any of its natural enemies or controls, as exist in Brazil. Any comparisons with the Brazil situation ignores this fact. What will prevent T. ovatus from getting out of control in Hawaii? How will millions, or billions, of scale insects, eggs, and nymphs that will be infesting thousands of acres of strawberry guava behave without any natural controls? Since research shows that they feed on at least one species of guava without forming galls, what harm will they cause to other species? What will they do to humans who will breathe in airborne eggs and nymphs? What about the flying males, which could be attracted to light and become a nuisance?
3. Most of our remaining native forests are above 4000 ft. elevation. The strawberry guava does not grow above 4000 ft. elevation. The lower elevation forests are typically filled with numerous other non-native species. Attacking the waiawi will only allow these other invasive species to take their place. This could increase the risk of forest fires, as invasive grasses move in where defoliated waiawi let in more light.
4. The insect proposal will impact on private property owners who have strawberry guava as an ornamental fruit tree. Once the insect is released, it will spread throughout the islands. Shouldn't property owners at least be compensated for the damage caused by this scale pest? Do you think it fair and good public policy to release an insect pest that will damage private property?
None of the propaganda pieces written to promote this invasive insect release have addressed these points. That is either dishonesty or ignorance. Clearly, the government seems more invested in this biocontrol experiment than in the honest discussion of these issues. If this experiment is not stopped, we may all end up suffering from the unintended consequences that always seem to follow these grand plans. The abuse of power and influence by the government in ramrodding this insect down our throats will be clear. But it will be too late to do anything about it, since once released there is no turning back. Of course, the biocontrol zealots will suggest another insect to attack the scale insect.
I challenge the insect promoters to address these issues. All they seem to say is their value for native species trumps all other concerns. Well, that is arrogant, selfish, and will lead to no good for anyone, including the environment.
As for demonizing strawberry guava, this favorite food and wood source has been enjoyed in Hawaii for nearly 200 years. If that doesn't qualify them as "native" then the word has no meaning. Wildlife also depends on this food source, including native birds. The cultural and environmental impacts of eliminating this fruit source has not been adequately addressed by the USDA Forest Service, which is promoting this insect release. We need an Environmental Impact Statement, which is something the insect promoters have been resisting since it means having to address these issues that show their plan is full of bugs.
Sydney Ross Singer, President
Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc.
P. O. Box 1880
Pahoa, Hawaii 96778