Federal watchdog: Guam tree snake eradication wasteful

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The largest fund release of $2,924,979 goes to efforts to combat the brown tree snake on Guam.

See Citizens Against Government Waste’s 2018 Congressional Pig Book Summary

Guam – The federal watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste is calling Guam’s “brown tree snake eradication program” wasteful.

The CAGW’s 2018 Congressional Pig Book Summary lists the $663,000 the federal government reportedly earmarked for the eradication of the brown tree snake from Guam among $14.7 billion in federal pork-barrel spending for this year. The tome’s subtitle is “The Book Washington Doesn’t Want You to Read”.

Meanwhile, the program continues undaunted and without apology. In fact, the U.S.  Dept. of Interior is resupplying regional lines of defense against the invasive brown tree snake by releasing a fresh round of funding for Guam, the Northern Marianas, and Hawaii.

‘Suppress and control’ is the name of the game tied to a $2.8 million Interior grant fanned out across the Pacific and various federal interdiction partners.

Dept. of Interior Asst. Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Doug Domenech’s description of regional mitigation depicts a strategy of containment in combating the spread of the invasive species.

“The support that the U.S. Congress provides for brown tree snake interdiction is critical to suppression efforts on Guam and to prevent the spread of the brown tree snake to the CNMI, Hawaii and the greater Micronesia region,” Domenech wrote in his Insular statement.

“The brown tree snake, which has had significant ecological and economic impacts on the island of Guam, must not be allowed to do any more damage than it has already done.”

$2.8M in Grant Earmarks

U.S. Dept. of Interior

Brown Tree Snake

ERADICATION FUNDS

U.S. Geological Survey: $1,047,386

(1) Aerial Acetaminophen Drops

(2) Early Detection & Rapid Response

Over a third of the Interior grant dollars goes to the U.S. Geological Survey, to support research projects that fall under two priorities, (1) landscape-scale suppression of brown tree snakes via aerial delivery of toxicants and (2) improving early detection and rapid response activities.

According to the Interior Department, USGS brings a combination of herpetological, ecological, and analytical expertise to the program, and is uniquely placed to develop new control tools, validate and test control tools developed by partner agencies, and assess the feasibility of proposed snake control efforts.

USDA National Wildlife Research Center: $434,725

  • ACETAMINOPHEN Bait Cartridge Manufacturing System
  • ACETAMINOPHEN Aerial Bait Drop System

Of the total grant amount, another $434,725 in Interior grant money will be managed by the USDA National Wildlife Research Center to build an improved bait cartridge manufacturing system and increase the production of bait capsules for the aerial bait drop system. Brown tree snake removal efforts on Guam rely on live trapping and aerial delivery of toxic baits consisting of dead acetaminophen-laced neonatal mice.

DOI reports that aerial treatment of the invasive snakes is the only practical option for landscape-scale suppression in Guam’s forested habitats. Interior also said improvements to the baiting system will ensure it can withstand an eight-hour duty cycle and produce nearly 7,200 bait capsules per day. Interior said this effort remains a top priority of the Brown Tree Snake Research Committee.

Kontra i Kulepbla

“Challenge the Snake”

$175,000

Division of Aquatic & Wildlife Resources

Guam Dept. of Agriculture

Auxiliarily, $175,000 will support the Kontra I Kulepbla (‘Challenge the Snake’) public outreach program administered by the Guam Dept. of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife. Encouraging positive discussion about brown tree snake suppression to help restore and protect Guam’s native wildlife. As the aerial bait drop system on military lands improves, Interior hopes to introduce the same system on public lands, but that will require the support of local residents.

CNMI Dept. of Lands & Natural Resources

Brown Tree Snake Interdiction Program

$507,383

  • Canine & Visual Inspections
  • Port Traps
  • Rapid Response
  • 90% Incoming Cargo Inspection
    • 2,300 Commercial Aircraft
    • 90 Units of Marine Cargo                           

In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, $507,383 is earmarked for the CNMI’s Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources’ Brown Tree Snake Interdiction Program. Funding 11 employees across Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

The CNMI program conducts canine and visual inspections, deploys traps around all ports of entry, and trains for rapid response against snake sightings. The strict Northern Marianas effort requires no lesser rate than 90 percent incoming cargo inspection. Last year, more than 2,300 commercial aircraft and 90 units of marine cargo were inspected in the Commonwealth.

Invasive Species Biologists in Saipan & Hawaii: $341,352

The DOI grant also seeds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with $341,352 to support an invasive species biologist in Saipan and another in Hawaii. Both work closely with federal and local partners to provide coordination, management, and technical assistance on interdiction, control, and management of the brown tree snake program across the Pacific islands eco-region, most notably in Hawaii, Guam and the CNMI.

Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture: $333,786

Brown Tree Snake Interdiction Program

  • Detector Dogs
  • Overtime for Thorough Inspections
  • 2017 High-Risk Inspection Rate: 98.6%

Finally, the Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture will receive $333,786 in Interior grant funding to support the state’s Brown Tree Snake Interdiction Program. Funds  underwrite detector dogs who sniff out any snakes arriving on aircraft and sea craft from Guam and other high-risk areas. This Interior allotment also supports overtime for thorough inspections. Last year, the Aloha State’s Agriculture Department reportedly inspected 98.6 percent of all high-risk arrivals.

Whatever it’s motive for characterizing brown tree snake interdiction as pork barrel spending, the Citizens Against Government Waste admits in its annual Pig Book that the pest has been something more than a nuisance to Guam. “The snakes are native to northern Australia, Indonesia, and many of the islands in Melanesia, but have caused damage to the ecosystem of Guam, where they were likely introduced by the U.S. military following World War II,” it reads.

The U.S. Office of Insular Affairs carries out the Interior Department’s responsibilities for the CNMI, Guam, and other American territories. OIA is tasked with balancing limited resources for stronger economics, better health, and fiscal accountability in America’s Insular areas.

This report is supported by information provided in a news release from the Department of the Interior.