'Protecting our land': Sen. Hirono introduces new bill to preserve native plant species

Pele lobeliad flowers (Image: Rob Robichaux)
Pele lobeliad flowers (Image: Rob Robichaux)
Published: Jul. 18, 2018 at 6:31 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 18, 2018 at 11:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono introduced new legislation on Wednesday in an effort to protect native Hawaiian plants.

The Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration, and Promotion Act prioritizes the preservation of these plants, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.

"Native plants play a crucial role in conserving and protecting our land, and are an important part of our culture," Hirono said, in a news release. "This bill provides resources to ensure that our land managers have the necessary tools and expertise to protect our native plants."

Officials say that Hawaii contains over half of the endangered plant species listed under the U. S. Endangered Species Act.

The bill encourages federal agencies to hire botanists, conduct research on native plant materials, and incorporate native plants in projects on federal land when feasible, according to Hirono's office.

The bill was cosponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

According to Hirono's office, the legislation would promote native plant research and use by:

  • Creating a botanical research grant program within the Department of the Interior
  • Promoting the hiring of botanists within the Department of the Interior and creating a student loan repayment program to attract and retain botanists
  • Directing the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Defense to provide preference to native plant materials in land management projects and justify the use of non-native plant materials
  • Requiring the use of native plant materials in surface transportation projects and federal building design
  • Promoting interagency cooperation for various activities relating to native plants
  • Directing the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to incorporate into existing activities native plant conservation
  • Creating a grant program within the Department of the Interior to keep rare plants off of the Endangered Species list by increasing their populations and helping those currently on the list recover

"With the introduction of this bill, Hawaii stands to benefit greatly in both our economy and the preservation of our unique and imperiled flora," said Dustin Wolkis, a seed bank & laboratory manager with the Department of Science and Conservation at the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

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