To battle invasive species, UH researcher uses a chopper and a paintball gun

Published: May. 3, 2016 at 7:59 PM HST|Updated: May. 3, 2016 at 8:25 PM HST
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(Image: James Leary)
(Image: James Leary)

KULA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - James Leary takes weeding to a whole new level.

On a routine basis, the University of Hawaii researcher jumps into a helicopter and uses a paintball gun with specially-designed herbicide pellets to destroy invasive plants in remote Maui forests.

"I can treat individual invasive plant species from a range of up to 30 meters or 100 feet," he says.

Leary's main target is miconia, an invasive weed that chokes out native plants and damages the ecosystem.

Over the last four years, with the help of grant-funding, Leary's logged 400 hours of flight time, treating over 15,000 targets and protecting over 20,000 acres of forested watershed.

The paintballs are custom-made in Michigan by Nelson Paint. The helicopter is a rental from Windward aviation.

The whole set-up may seem like a pricey proposition, but it's just the opposite. Leary's operation runs on a shoestring budget of $200,000 a year.

"We're able to, with our efforts, protect an acre of forested watershed at less than $10," he said. "So it's a very economical approach because of the efficiency the helicopter provides."

And not just efficient, but effective. Leary's forecasts show complete containment of miconia in three decades.

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