Lawmakers want canine crew back

agriculture inspector Glenn Sakamoto
agriculture inspector Glenn Sakamoto
Rep. Barbara Marumoto
Rep. Barbara Marumoto

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - From 1989 to 2009, state Department of Agriculture canines and handlers searched out alien pests and invasive species stowing away in cargo and on incoming aircraft and ships.

"Because of their keen sense of smell they're just an added tool for the inspection program," agriculture inspector Glenn Sakamoto said.

But money shortages took that tool out of the agriculture department's hands.

"The dog program was cut. The dogs were given away. We need them here," Rep. Barbara Marumoto said.

Marumoto and Rep. Clift Tsuji are behind two bills that merged into one. House Bill 1943 seeks to bring back the Hawaii Detector Dog Program, mainly to guard against a feared invasion of brown tree snakes.

"The concern is effects it could have to our agriculture, our environment, our natural resources, and of course public health and safety," Sakamoto said.

The snake is responsible for wiping out most of Guam's native forest birds and causing $4.5 million annually in power outage costs. The fear is that it could do the same here. Brown tree snake findings in Hawaii have been few, but that could change with the buildup of U.S. military in Guam and the Marianas.

"We're concerned about more military flights coming into Hawaii, whether it's military or commercial flights," Sakamoto said. "Something like the brown tree snake could be hitchhiking along."

Without dogs, agriculture inspectors have been limited to visual inspections.

The bill calls for $162,000 a year to pay for a canine trainer and three inspector handlers. Half the money would come from the Federal government..

"These dogs can be cross-trained," Marumoto said. "They could go after coqui frogs. They could be trained to go after certain type of snails, all sorts of things that could really ruin our environment."

The bill cleared the House Agriculture Committee. It now goes to the House Finance Committee.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved