An initiative to expand the borders of the West Maui Forest reserve was passed today. The plan will see a new preservation zone which extends into parts of Lahaina. Backers say the expansion is needed to ensure that natural areas remain protected from overuse and invasive species. They point out how important those areas are to keeping a thriving tourist industry. Others are concerned that the expansion may unduly burden hundreds who now find themselves living within the protected area.
Backed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the legislation follows on the heels of low population zone (lpz) rules adopted by Maui after the construction of the Thorcon plant back in 2029. The DLNR says that a number of high profile construction projects, Including numerous Veilcorp facilities, have exposed the islands to a flood of invasive species requiring tough new regulations and the increase in government protected lands.
Officials point to the rampant little fire ant infestation that has gripped the island in the past year. Unlike the native tropical fire ant, the little fire ant has become a major problem. Despite being miniscule in size, the invasive species can deliver a painful sting when disturbed that can produce welts that last for weeks. They promote pests such as scale insects, white flies, and aphids, by killing natural predators and parasites. The ants have already wreaked havoc on local agriculture and numerous attacks on pets have been reported. Many are concerned about the local sea turtles and their nesting grounds. On the Galapagos Islands the ants are known to eat tortoise hatchlings and attack the eyes of adult tortoises, leading to blindness.
DLNR spokeswoman Anita Keawe says,
“We’re really trying to avoid some of the issues that Kauai is currently facing with the Coqui frogs. They have transformed the “Garden Isle” over the last few years. We tried taking a more hands-off approach there and I think everyone can see what happened. After a number of unsuccessful eradication campaigns and without any predators, the frogs have eaten almost all the natural pollinators. Many native flowers and plants are in danger and last year’s guava crop was almost nonexistent. The expansion of the preservation zone will not only offer protection to huge swathes of land on Maui, but comes with other strict rules and regulations. Veilcorp in particular, will have to follow stringent new quarantine rules and isolate any incoming freight until it has been properly inspected.”
However, not everyone agrees that expanding the borders is the way to handle the ant incursion. Many residents who find themselves within the borders of newly protected areas will be prohibited from building additions to their homes, or even beginning large-scale remodeling work in some cases without special permits.
Still others see even bigger problems with the new plan. Chris Treadwell of Creek Propulsions claims that the expansion helps the big players on the island and is designed to stifle small business and innovators.
“I have no doubt that the State’s heart was in the right place with this planned expansion, but the big winners here are Veilcorp and Thorcon. Their facilities are already complete and they have used the political wind to make sure that no other competitors can get a foothold in the area. We’ve been exploring geothermal power options in Hawaii since 2028. This expansion will create a glut of new rules and regulations that make exploring test sites almost impossible. I think it’s pretty well established that the ants became a problem after Veilcorp began construction. I’m not saying in anyway that the spread of the ants was deliberate; I’m just pointing out that the company isn’t really shouldering any of the responsibility to solve the problem. Instead, of giving them a bill or halting their operations, the government has passed a law ensuring that they can operate in Lahaina without the worry of other companies moving in. Maui has just agreed to let the fox guard the hen house, and I think we should all be concerned about that.”
Officials counter that the plan is designed to help protect the tourist industry. They point out that almost 80% of every dollar generated on the island is directly or indirectly from tourism. While certain activities like ATV tours will now come with new government rules, there are no plans to ban them. “This really is about making sure our beaches stay pristine and ensuring that Maui remains a beautiful destination,” says Keawe