Updated: December 3, 2023
Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD), which has killed more than a million ʻŌhiʻa trees in Hawaiʻi since its discovery in 2014. Today, US Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Representatives Jill Tokuda (D-HI) and Ed Case (D-HI) introduced legislation to combat the disease.
The Continued Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Response Act of 2023 authorizes $55 million in federal funding over the next 11 years to support ongoing efforts by federal agencies including the US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Forest Service, working in partnership with state agencies, to help combat ʻŌhiʻa tree death in Hawaiʻi.
The legislation is led by Senator Hirono in the Senate and Representative Tokuda in the House.
“ʻŌhiʻa Lehua are Hawaiʻi’s most abundant native tree, but ROD poses a serious threat to the species’ survival,” said Senator Hirono in a news release. “As ROD continues to decimate Hawaiʻi’s ʻŌhiʻa population, federal support is crucial to combating ROD and protecting ʻŌhiʻa trees across Hawaiʻi. ʻŌhiʻa plays an important role in protecting our native ecosystems and I am proud to lead our delegation in advocating for the federal resources Hawaiʻi needs to prevent further ʻŌhiʻa death and protect our state’s unique biodiversity.”
“I’m proud to join Senator Hirono in co-leading the introduction of the Continued Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Response Act, which will unlock federal support to combat the spread of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death and restore Hawaii’s ʻŌhiʻa forests. Covering nearly one million acres throughout Hawaiʻi, ʻŌhiʻa lehua forms the basis of our watershed, preventing runoff and providing critical habitat for endangered birds like honeycreepers. In recent years, Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death has devastated too many ʻŌhiʻa forests, especially on the Big Island, and its spread throughout Hawaiʻi is deeply troubling. This bill is a step in the right direction to ensure this critical natural and cultural resource is there for the next generation,” said Representative Jill Tokuda.
“In order to fight Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, we need more resources to research the disease and work to control its spread. Our bill will give us more tools to preserve our ʻŌhiʻa and restore our native forests and ecosystems,” said Senator Schatz.
“Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, first detected on Oʻahu just a few years ago, poses a major threat to these precious endemic trees found on tens of thousands of acres throughout the Koʻolau and Waiʻanae mountain ranges,” said Representative Ed Case. “Our measure will help to combat this deadly fungus which left unchecked will devastate not only our most abundant native tree but with it our unique and endangered forest ecosystem.”
ROD is a fungus, Ceratocystis, that was first found in Hawaiʻi in 2014 and has since killed over a million native ʻŌhiʻa trees. Over the past nine years ROD has been detected on Hawaiʻi Island, Kauaʻi, Maui, and Oʻahu. In that time, the USFS has partnered with the State of Hawaiʻi and the US Department of the Interior in efforts to detect and respond to the spread of ROD.
Specifically, the Continued Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Response Act of 2023 would support these ongoing efforts by:
- Directing the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the US Geological Survey, to continue providing resources for the purposes of researching ROD vectors and transmission;
- Requiring the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to work with the State of Hawaiʻi and other local stakeholders on ungulate management in control areas on federal, state, and private land;
- Requiring the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Chief of the US Forest Service, to continue providing resources to prevent the spread of ROD and restore the native forests in Hawaiʻi, and to also continue to provide financial and staff resources to the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry (IPIF), located in Hilo, to continue research on ROD; and
- Authorizing $55 million in appropriations over the next eleven years for both the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to carry out these actions.