by: Diane Ako
KALIHI (KHNL) - A new environmental program on Oahu works to keep new weeds off the island, and out of the state's cleanup budget. This month, botanists will take to the streets to search and destroy invasive plants. They are botanists-turned-weed whackers! They walk around Oahu all day looking to keep our streets safe from bad seeds.
The plant patrol begins on the road, but always ends on foot. Botanist Danielle Frohlich explains why they're doing this. "It's a lot less expensive to look for something now before it becomes a problem than to try to get rid of something that's already widespread."
Frolich and coworker Alex Lau walk around looking for invasive plant species. By foot and by car the team will travel 40 miles a week on Oahu roads just to look for weeds. When they find one, they document it, to tag it for removal. Frohlich says it's a good way to protect Hawaii's fragile ecosystem. "Most of what we have in our hills are non-native species. Some were planted, but a lot just got there by spreading."
Today, they found a Madagascar rubber vine, already a big problem in Australia. Frolich warns, "It could be a problem here in Hawaii, too, if it were to get into ranchland because it is poisonous to cattle."
They're trying to catch bad weeds before they become a problem. Remember the Lake Wilson cleanup of 2003? It cost nearly a million dollars of state and city money to clean the salvinia molesta weed off the lake. The program is run by the Oahu Invasive Species Committee. Program administrator Rachel Neville details the group's philosophy, which applies not only to weeds but all invasive species that threaten to change or damage Hawaii's habitat. "When we find something that is not known to be on Oahu but is known to be a problem, we can get it before it costs a lot of money to get rid of."