Hawaii gets federal boost to prevent invasive snake from destroying native wildlife

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Boots were on the ground Friday morning in the fight to keep brown tree snakes out of Hawaii.

A federal grant was awarded to the Department of Agriculture to expand its arsenal of snake traps near the airport.

Officials say if the snake ever made its way into Hawaii, the impact would be disastrous. It would devastate endangered species and the state’s tourism industry.

The state and military installed new snake traps Friday all around the airfield at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Rebecca Smith, JBPHH natural resource manager, helps to oversee the traps.

“We have had traps out in certain areas around the airfield that were deemed as high-risk locations where the tree snake would be found,” Smith said. “We’ve had those traps out for about a year and a half, and we are adding more.”

With $15,000 of newly awarded grant money from the federal government, six new traps are being added to the 12 already in place.

The traps are outfitted with a live mouse, but the mouse has a separate cage within the trap, so it’s not in any danger even if it does have company.

The traps are checked three times a week by teams from either the Department of Agriculture, or field biologists like Aurelia Gonzalez, who works with the military.

“We feed and water them,” Gonzalez said. “We also see that the trap is functional, and that there are no snakes in there.”

The trapping program has been active for the last year and a half, but that’s just one line of defense. Flights are also inspected using dogs both leaving Guam and landing in Honolulu.

Crews also survey fence lines at night to make sure there are no snakes along the edge of the airfield.

Jonathan Ho with the Department of Agriculture says even one brown tree snake is extremely dangerous to Hawaii.

“Hawaii is uniquely at risk for the introduction of brown tree snakes,” Ho said. “In Guam, it basically eradicated a lot of their native small forest species, their birds, their reptiles and amphibians. Hawaii is the endangered species capital of the world, and they would like to do the same here.”

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