Team racing to save Hawaii's rarest plants faces funding crisis
MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A statewide team that's tasked with trying to save Hawaii's rarest plants now faces an uncertain future.
The Plant Extinction Prevention Program operates on a budget of about $1.1 million. But researchers say they're facing a funding cut of up to 70 percent next year.
The work relies on state money from the Department of Land and Natural Resources and federal funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"We've been notified that according to the president's budget, we will probably be zeroed out which means that we won't be receiving funds," said statewide PEPP manager Joan Yoshioka.
Many of the President Trump's threatened cuts were restored in the budget signed on Friday, but the plant program's future is still unclear.
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Employees focus on 237 species that have 50 or fewer individuals left in the wild.
"Almost a third of our native species are on that list already, and at the rate of decline and the populations of native species, more will be on that list soon," said Josh VanDeMark, the Hawaii Island PEPP Coordinator. "It would be tragic to lose that part of our heritage and our history."
The team collects fruit, seeds and cuttings that are used for long-term storage as well as propagation.
"The PEP program is able to target those plants to make sure they're not lost forever and to begin the restoration to put them back into the world where they can take on their role in native ecosystems," said Matt Keir, a botanist with the DLNR's Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
Statewide PEPP specialist Steve Perlman said they're racing against the clock.
"Ninety percent of our plants are endemic, not found anywhere else in the world," he said. "We're really losing in that we have these really unique species that have evolved here, so what we're losing is part of the world's diversity."
PEPP officials hope to raise $480,000 from private donors to help offset the anticipated funding gap.
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