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Singer: Community in shock over DLNR-approved tree destruction

Monkey pod tree in Puna. (Photo courtesy of Sydney Ross Singer)

Monkey pod tree in Puna. (Photo courtesy of Sydney Ross Singer)

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Sydney Ross Singer | Medical Anthropologist, Biologist, Author

A small community in a picturesque part of Puna is in shock today, reeling from the loss of majestic monkey pod trees, their lacy leaves and hundred foot tall branches having graced this area for decades.

They was cut down and reduced to chips on conservation land, where the road meets the sea in Opihikao, along Highway 137, locally called the Red Road.

The property owner wanted to build, as the law allows. Since this is conservation land, he needed to consult the Department of Land and Natural Resources about his plans to clear the area of these expansive monkey pod trees.

The DLNR’s policy is to encourage the removal of “invasive” species, so the property owner had the green light to cut them down.

You would think that the purpose of having conservation lands was to protect our precious, natural resources, such as beautiful trees like these monkey pods. But to the DLNR, nonnative species are all invasive, and therefore have no resource value.

Monkey pod trees are now defined as invasive, regardless of their beauty, or how many people value and enjoy them.

It is a black and white judgment, prejudicial against non-natives, made by bureaucrats in Honolulu, and affecting people, plants and animals throughout the islands.

Residents watched in horror, crying for their loss, some wanting to chain themselves to the trees to save them from destruction. But the die was cast. Now sunshine beats down on this sleepy shoreline stretch of road where had once been a muted shadow from these fine trees.

It looks like a big piece has been removed from a jigsaw puzzle of a tropical paradise. A nearby monkey pod, an equal companion of the ones just killed, stands nearby. Residents pray for its survival past this time of destructive environmentalism.

No matter where you live in Hawaii, this fate threatens beautiful trees near you. And with the green light from federal, state and county governments to rid the islands of politically incorrect species, the killing can happen faster than you can say chainsaw.

A current proposal to ban all non-native species from being brought into Hawaii now disgraces our state legislature, showing the extent of this insanity.

If invasive species eradication interests had their way, we would spend all our time and money trying to erase the impact of hundreds of years of species introductions to these isolated islands.

The irony, of course, is that these anti-non-native species resolutions and bills are written in English. Perhaps we should follow the lead of Rep. Faye Hanohano, who speaks to the legislature in Hawaiian and refuses to translate to the “haoles” who can’t understand her. English is non-native in Hawaii.

Cars, trucks, and airplanes are also non-native. So is spam, MacDonalds, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Our environment is composed of more than non-native plants and animals. Modern western culture is non-native to Hawaii. So is Christianity, and democracy, and science.

It’s easy to start up a chainsaw or open a bottle of poison or put up a fence to destroy plants and animals that were introduced by non-Hawaiians. But it’s much harder to eradicate the non-Hawaiian culture. And since most of the people calling for species cleansing of all that is non-native are themselves non-native, you can be sure that they will exempt themselves from the process.

All that this crazy, destructive environmentalism can produce is grant money for those employed to cut and kill. It is a revenue maker, feeding off federal funds. It doesn’t matter to those doing this work that climate change makes restoration of “native” ecosystems an impossible dream. It doesn’t matter to them that cars, and planes, and pollution, and crowds of people, and all the realities of modern life in Hawaii will still define our islands despite small enclaves where non-native species have been removed and native species have been planted. It doesn’t matter to them that in the end we will lose our precious introduced species and natural resources.

But to the group of people living in the jungle along the sleepy Red Road in Opihikao, crying over their lost monkey pods, it did matter.

(Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist and director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease.)

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