Two wildlife issues have collided in Hawaii, pitting one group of animal defenders against another in an impassioned debate. The point of contention? Deadly cat poop and the feral felines that produce it.
Federal researchers believe feces from the legions of feral cats roaming Hawaii is spreading a disease that is killing Hawaiian monk seals, some of the world’s most endangered marine mammals. Some conservationists advocate euthanizing those cats that no one wants, and that’s got cat lovers up in arms.
“It’s a very difficult, emotional issue,” said state Sen. Mike Gabbard, chairman of a committee that earlier this year heard and then abandoned a proposal to ban the feeding of feral cats on state land after an outcry. “It struck a nerve in our community.”
The problem stems from a parasite common in cats that can cause toxoplasmosis, a disease that killed at least five female Hawaiian monk seals and three males since 2001, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“While eight seals may not sound like a lot of animals, it actually has pretty large ramifications for an endangered population where there’s only about 1,300 seals in existence at this point in time,” said Michelle Barbieri, veterinary medical officer for NOAA’s Hawaiian monk seal research program.
Scientists believe monk seals become exposed to toxoplasmosis by ingesting contaminated water or prey.
Felines are the only animals that can shed Toxoplasma gondii eggs, or oocysts. The parasites enter their digestive tract through infected prey then multiply in the small intestine and produce the eggs. Outdoor cats excrete the eggs in their feces, which researchers say washes into the ocean.
The eggs accumulate in invertebrates that live along the sea floor, where monk seals often feed. They can survive in fresh water, saltwater and soil for up to two years.
Any warm-blooded animal can become infected. California sea otters have died from toxoplasmosis, and it’s one of the major reasons the Hawaiian crow, alala, is extinct in the wild. Toxoplasmosis is rarely problematic for people with healthy immune systems, but it’s why doctors advise pregnant women not to handle kitty litter.
Many cities struggle with feral cats, but the problem is particularly acute in Hawaii because of its sensitive ecosystem and at-risk native species, experts say. Only two mammals are native to Hawaii: the hoary bat and the Hawaiian monk seal.
“Everything else here_ deer, sheep, goats, cats, mongoose _ they’re all invasive, they’re all introduced,” said Angela Amlin, NOAA’s acting Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator, adding cats have no predators in Hawaii to control their population.
Marketing research commissioned by the Hawaiian Humane Society in 2015 estimated some 300,000 feral cats roam Oahu alone.
Marine debris, climate change, predation and human interaction all threaten the survival of Hawaiian monk seals. But feral cats present their greatest disease concern, Amlin said.
“As conservationists, what we really have to look at is this is what Hawaii’s native ecosystem includes, and cats are unfortunately not part of that,” Amlin said. “When it comes to the feral cat population, there should be a program in place to bring in these animals, adopt the ones that are adoptable and humanely euthanize those that are not.”
Others take offense to that notion.
Classifying animals with labels such as native and invasive creates a “hierarchy in which the protection of certain animals comes at the suffering of others,” Hawaiian Humane Society President and CEO Pamela Burns wrote in a letter opposing the state Senate bill that would have banned cat-feeding on state land. She contended the 300,000 figure overstates the problem because the study looked at how many cats people were feeding and might have missed instances where multiple people fed the same outdoor cat.
Those who care for stray cats advocate trapping, neutering and spaying to help control their population.
The University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus, in Honolulu, started a feral cat management program _ with authorized feeders trained in tasks like trapping and feces disposal _ after the stench and mess from hundreds of cats prompted complaints, especially when children at a campus daycare center got flea bites, said Roxanne Adams, director of buildings and grounds.
The program started in 2011 and appears to have reduced the number of felines, she said.
Euthanizing cats is unacceptable unless they’re extremely sick, said Alicia Maluafiti, board president of animal welfare group Poi Dogs and Popoki.
“I totally disagree with the … generalization that cat people love cats more than these endangered species,” Maluafiti said. “What we just don’t advocate is the wholesale killing, the extermination, of one species … for one.”
Federal authorities have added seven yellow-faced bee species — Hawaii’s only native bees — for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This is a first for any bees in the United States.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the listing after years of study by the conservation group Xerces Society, state government officials and independent researchers.
The Xerces Society says its goal is to protect nature’s pollinators and invertebrates, which play a vital role in the health of the overall ecosystem.
The nonprofit organization was involved in the initial petitions to protect the bee species, said Sarina Jepson, director of endangered species and aquatic programs for the Portland, Oregon-based group.
Jepson said yellow-faced bees can be found elsewhere in the world, but these particular species are native only to Hawaii and pollinate plant species indigenous to the islands.
The bees face a variety of threats including “feral pigs, invasive ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some for the coastal areas,” Jepson told The Associated Press.
The bees can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Hawaii, from coastal environments to high-elevation shrub lands, she said. The yellow-faced bees pollinate some of Hawaii’s endangered native plant species. While other bees could potentially pollinate those species, many could become extinct if these bees were to die off entirely.
Hawaii-based entomologist Karl Magnacca worked with Xerces on much of the initial research. It has taken almost 10 years to get to this point, he told the AP. “It’s good to see it to finally come to fruition,” he said.
The bees “tend to favor the more dominant trees and shrubs we have here,” he said. “People tend to focus on the rare plants, and those are important, that’s a big part of the diversity. But the other side is maintaining the common ones as common. (The bees) help maintain the structure of the whole forest.”
Magnacca added that there are a lot more rare insects that deserve protection. “It may not necessarily be appropriate to list them as endangered, but we have this huge diversity that we need to work on and protect here in Hawaii,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done.”
The bees are critical for maintaining the health of plants and other animals across the islands, said Gregory Koob, conservation and restoration team manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu.
There is no designated critical habitat attached to the listing, he said, but the protection will allow authorities to implement recovery programs, access funding and limit their harm from outside sources. All federal agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife service when interacting with endangered species.
“As an animal, it can’t be taken or harmed or killed by individuals,” Koob said. “Any research that is done needs a permit from Fish and Wildlife Service unless it’s done by a state agency.”
Koob said that if the bees were removed from ecosystem, the plants that they pollinate would likely not survive.
“Those plants are not only food and nesting habitat for the bees, but they also provide habitat for other animals,” he said. “It’s the web of life.”
Friday’s listing finalized the protection of 10 animal species in Hawaii, the seven bees along with the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly and the anchialine pool shrimp. It also added 39 species of plants native to Hawaii.
The rusty-patched bumble bee, found widely across the continental United States, is also being considered for protection.
On the Web
Documents from FWS.
As the largest international gathering of coral reef experts comes to a close, scientists and policy makers are moving ahead with plans for action to save the world’s reefs, which are being rapidly damaged.
“We are not ready to write the obituary for coral reefs,” James Cook University professor Terry Hughes, who is also the president of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia, said about the “unprecedented” move by the scientific community. Scientists are not known for their political activism, he said, but they felt this crisis warranted such action.
A call to action from three Pacific island nations whose reefs are in the crosshairs of the largest and longest-lasting coral bleaching event in recorded history was presented Friday at the conclusion of the International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu. The Associated Press was given advance access to the call for action and the scientific community’s response.
The heads of state from Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands attended the conference and will provide a plan to help save their ailing coral reefs, which are major contributors to their local economies and the daily sustenance of their people. The call to action, signed by the three presidents, asked for better collaboration between the scientific community and local governments, saying there needs to be more funding and a strengthened commitment to protecting the reefs.
“If our coral reefs are further degraded, then our reef-dependent communities will suffer and be displaced,” the letter said. They also called for more integration of “traditional knowledge, customary practices and scientific research” in building a comprehensive coral reef policy.
In response to the letter, the scientific community at the conference said: “We pledge to take up the 13th ICRS Leaders’ Call to Action, and will work together with national leaders of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the world to curb the continued loss of coral reefs.”
Bleaching is a process where corals, stressed by hot ocean waters and other environmental changes, lose their color as the symbiotic algae that lives within them is released. Severe or concurrent years of bleaching can kill coral reefs, as has been documented over the past two years in oceans around the world. Scientists expect a third year of bleaching to last through the end of 2016.
In the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef, close to half of the corals have died in the past three months, said Hughes, who focuses his research there. The area of the reef that suffered most is extremely remote, he said, with no pollution, very little fishing pressure and no coastal development.
“That’s an absolute catastrophe,” Hughes said. “There’s nowhere to hide from climate change.”
But the panel of scientists emphasized the progress they have made over the past 30 years and stressed that good research and management programs for coral reefs are available. The scientists said they just need the proper funding and political will to enact them.
The researchers focused on the economic and social benefits coral reefs contribute to communities across the globe, saying the critical habitats generate trillions of dollars annually but conservation efforts are not proportionately or adequately funded.
In the United States, the budget for the federal coral reef conservation program is set at about $27 million a year, said Bob Richmond, director of the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory and convener of this year’s International Coral Reef Symposium.
In Hawaii, he said, the reefs are valued at $34 billion, and the return to the state’s economy is about $360 million annually — meaning the entire nation’s budget for coral reef conservation is less than 10 percent of the annual return in that one state alone.
Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands also have ailing reefs under the budget.
The Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, which aimed to protect coral reefs and create programs to manage their conservation, has been plagued by political resistance and a severe lack of funding, Richmond said.
The fight over regulating genetically engineered crops in three Hawaii counties was back in a federal courtroom.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Honolulu last week on ordinances that seek to regulate or outlaw genetically engineered crops in Hawaii, Kauai and Maui counties.
Agrichemical companies and trade associations sued each county and federal court rulings sided with the businesses. The counties and interested environmental groups want the 9th Circuit to overturn the decisions.
Lawyers representing the counties argued that state laws do not specifically address genetically engineered crops relevant to the proposed regulations. The counties, which have policing powers to protect their residents, assert that they have the right and obligation to regulate the industry.
They also argued that the Hawaii Supreme Court should have taken up the issue as there is no written opinion specifically on genetically engineered crops in the state.
“This matter should have been turned over via certified question to the Hawaii Supreme Court because it’s an important issue for the entire state of Hawaii,” said David Minkin, representing the county of Kauai at the hearing.
The state Department of Agriculture regulates harmful plants in Hawaii, however, and attorneys representing the agrichemical companies said the state could and would specifically regulate genetically engineered plants if they felt it was warranted. The department has not said genetically engineered crops are harmful.
“The issue in this case isn’t whether pesticides or GE plants should be regulated or what those regulations should be. The only question here is who does the regulating. Under current Hawaii law, the answer is clear,” said Chris Landau, representing the companies in the Kauai and Big Island cases. “The state has comprehensive schemes in place.”
While the state gives counties some power to regulate issues on a local level, those ordinances cannot conflict with state laws.
In Kauai, the county wants to require the companies to report exactly where and what they are growing and seeks to ban the use of pesticides. The companies argue that the reporting process itself is a form of regulation, and the farms would risk both vandalism and espionage if that reporting were required.
Alika Atay, 62, who is a certified natural Hawaiian farmer who has lived on Maui his entire life, said his major concern is the heavy usage of pesticides.
“In a very short period of time these people have come to our island and they have poisoned our island, “Atay said.
“They are killing the Hawaiian people … if they kill us — or kill our land, kill our water — where do we have to go? This is our home. We must protect our home,”Atay said.
Companies that develop new types crops are drawn to Hawaii’s warm weather, which allows them to grow more generations of crops and accelerate their development of new varieties.
Monsanto and Dow Chemical have research farms in Maui County.
U.S. District Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled last June that federal and state law pre-empts that county’s ban on cultivating genetically engineered crops, making it invalid. She stressed then that her order addressed only the question of county authority.
Two years ago, Kauai and Hawaii counties adopted measures regulating GMO crops and pesticides. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren struck them down, saying state law superseded them.
The National Park Service wants to manage safety and resource protection concerns as growing crowds of people compete for space to watch the sunrise at Hawaii’s Haleakala summit.
Private or rental vehicles have exceeded available parking 98 percent of the time this year, up from 83 percent in 2014 and 94 percent last year, the Maui News reported.
Some people are parking and walking where they shouldn’t, a Haleakala National Park official said. Visitor safety is also a concern as people venture out to find a better view.
“People want to get away from the crowds, so they go off trail into endangered species habitat, which is also where many sensitive cultural resources are,” said Polly Angelakis, the park’s chief of interpretation and education. “Or they move out on to cliff faces or crumbling volcanic rocks, which are very dangerous.”
The sunrise can draw as many as 850 people in one morning, with a daily average of 600.
“These resources can be damaged both by vehicles and off-road travel by visitors,” Angelakis said.
No plan has been drafted to manage the noncommercial crowds.
Two meetings have been held to solicit public comment on ways to manage crowds, visitor enjoyment as well as the protection of natural resources.
People can submit comments by June 6 via the online Planning, Environment and Public Comment System.
Park officials plan to use the comments as they develop a potential plan.
Wildlife advocates met at the Hawaii Capitol last week to discuss the state’s illegal ivory trade, which they say could become the largest in the U.S. if left unregulated.
Kristin Bauer van Straten, an actress from the HBO series “True Blood,” joined Pearl Jam’s Boom Gaspar and Hawaii musician Henry Kapono to support bills to ban selling ivory in the state. They were joined by several wildlife advocacy groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“Most of us think this is something that’s been handled,” said Bauer van Straten, who’s been working to raise awareness on the issue for five years. “It’s worse than ever.”
Hawaii is a major gateway between the U.S. and Asia, and many tourists come to buy ivory from the state’s local merchants and jewelers. Animal rights groups say Hawaii’s demand for ivory could be helping to drive poachers to kill thousands of elephants each year for their tusks.
Animal advocacy groups say Hawaii is the third-largest ivory market in the country, but it could soon become the largest. The only states with larger markets are California and New York, which have banned the sale of undocumented ivory.
There are two bills in the Hawaii Legislature this session that would ban the sale of certain wildlife parts, including elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns and tiger pelts. Hawaii lawmakers have introduced similar bills in previous years, but none have passed.
The bills are supported by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Humane Society of the United States and wildlife advocates who say banning illegal ivory could help curb other black markets.
Yet the ivory ban is opposed by businesses and organizations who say it could put local jewelers and scrimshaw artists out of work. They say it would hurt Hawaii residents who own legal ivory, such as people who own antique guns decorated with elephant ivory.
“The only people harmed by this bill are law-abiding sellers and collectors of legal animal products, not the poachers and black market ivory dealers in other countries,” said Jessica Baker, who works at the Whaler’s Locker, a jewelry store in Lahaina, Maui.
The Hawaii bills come after the U.S. and China announced a cooperative effort last year to stop wildlife trafficking, including the import of illegal ivory.
In the past two years, over 19 states have considered bans on the sale of certain animal parts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
After enduring years of Republicans questioning the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s presidency, at least one Democrat says he’ll file suit against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s right to run for the nation’s highest office, if Cruz becomes the nominee.
Cruz, an ultra-conservative, religious right candidate, is rising in the polls. He’s now in a dead heat with Donald Trump among Iowa Republicans.
A number of Republicans, particularly those associated with the party’s tea party wing, have never accepted Obama’s status as a natural-born American. Obama was born in Hawaii to an American mother and an African father.
So-called “birthers,” including Trump, have created elaborate conspiracy theories claiming Obama was secretly born in Kenya. The birther movement contends Obama’s parents created counterfeit documents making it appear that he was born in Hawaii so that he could run for president when he grew up.
Many birthers believe the circumstances surrounding Obama’s birth were part of a scheme to plant him as a “Manchurian candidate” who would take his marching orders from the Muslim world.
Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father. He held dual citizenship until 2014, when he renounced his Canadian citizenship.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never clarified whether someone with Cruz’s heritage meets presidential eligibility muster. But New Hampshire election officials rejected arguments that Cruz is unqualified to appear on the ballot there.
In an interview with Fox News radio’s Alan Colmes, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, said he plans to file suit against Cruz’s eligibility if he wins the GOP nomination.
“He’s technically not even an American,” Grayson said.
Colmes, a liberal, didn’t disagree, suggesting it’s hypocritical of Republicans to have a problem with Obama’s birth certificate while Cruz was “literally born in another country.”
Under Title 8 rules, if a person is born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its territories to parents that include an alien and a U.S. citizen, that person is eligible for the presidency — but only if the natural-born parent was “physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of 14.”
Because the law is vague, Congress passed a resolution in 2008 stating that John McCain, who was born in Panama to a military family on assignment there, was a natural born citizen eligible to run for president.
While a growing number of states have turned their attention to marijuana legalization, another proposal has been quietly catching fire among some legislators — raising the legal age to buy cigarettes.
Nearly a dozen states this year have considered bills to boost the legal age for buying tobacco products.
This summer, Hawaii became the first state to approve increasing the smoking age from 18 to 21 starting Jan 1. A similar measure passed the California Senate, but stalled in the Assembly. And nearly a dozen other states have considered bills this year to boost the legal age for buying tobacco.
“It really is about good public health,” said Democratic Hawaii state Sen. Rosalyn Baker, who sponsored the legislation. “If you can keep individuals from beginning to smoke until they’re at least 21, then you have a much greater chance of them never becoming lifelong smokers.”
Supporters say hiking the legal age to 21 not only will save lives but also will cut medical costs for states. But opponents say it would hurt small businesses, reduce tax revenue and violate the personal freedom of young adults legally able to vote and join the military — an argument also made when the drinking age was raised to 21.
Measures to raise the smoking age to 21 also were introduced this year in Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia, according to the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, an advocacy group aimed at keeping young people from starting to smoke. Iowa and Texas considered measures to increase the legal age to 19. None of those bills passed. And just last week, a Pennsylvania legislator introduced a bill to up the age there to 21.
Cities Act First
In almost every state, including Wisconsin, the legal age to buy tobacco products is 18. Four states — Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah — have set the minimum at 19.
Anti-tobacco advocates say that hiking the smoking age to 21 is a fairly new approach in their effort to reduce young people’s tobacco use. Only recently has there been substantive research on the topic.
That hasn’t stopped a growing number of local governments from taking action. As of late September, at least 94 cities and counties, including New York City, Evanston, Illinois and Columbia, Missouri, had passed measures raising the smoking age to 21, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
One of those communities is Hawaii County, the so-called “Big Island” of Hawaii, where the law changed last year after a grassroots effort by health care advocates, anti-smoking groups and local high school students. That coalition, joined by teens from across Hawaii, continued its fight at the state level, and legislators heard the message, said Baker, whose bill also included e-cigarettes.
Supporters of raising the smoking age say that a turning point was a March report by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which predicted that raising the age to 21 would cut smoking by 12 percent by the time today’s teenagers are adults. It also would result in about 223,000 fewer premature deaths.
The institute’s report also supported health care advocates’ argument that preventing or delaying teens and young adults from experimenting with smoking would stop many of them from ever taking up the habit. About 90 percent of adults who become daily smokers say they started before they were 19, according to the report.
“Raising the age to 21 will keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger kids often get it from older students,” said John Schachter, state communications director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Supporters also point out that 21 became the national legal drinking age after President Ronald Reagan signed legislation in 1984 that forced states to comply or risk losing millions of dollars in federal highway funds. That has resulted in reduced alcohol consumption among young people and fewer alcohol-related crashes, national studies have found.
“Smoking kills more than six times as many people as drinking.” said Rob Crane, president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.
On Sept. 30, Democrats in the U.S. Senate announced they were co-sponsoring a federal bill that would ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said restricting tobacco sales to adults 21 or older would save lives and promote healthier communities.
Supporters of the bill said that in the last 50 years, nearly 21 million people in the United States have died from tobacco-related illnesses, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the country.
Opponents say that raising the smoking age to 21 would have negative consequences for businesses, taxpayers and 18-year-olds who should be free to make a personal choice about whether they want to smoke.
Smokers’ rights groups, retailers and veterans’ organizations are among those who’ve opposed such legislation.
“If you’re old enough to fight and die for your country at age 18, you ought to be able to make the choice of whether you want to purchase a legal product or not,” said Pete Conaty, a lobbyist for veterans groups who testified against the California bill. “You could enlist in the military, go to six months of training, be sent over to Iraq or Afghanistan and come back at age 19 and a half to California and not be able to buy a cigarette. It just doesn’t seem fair.”
Opponents say it’s wrong to compare cigarettes with alcohol. “If you smoke one or two cigarettes and get behind the wheel of a car, you’re not driving impaired,” Conaty said.
Opponents also say taxpayers would take a financial hit if the smoking age is raised. In New Jersey, where a bill to hike the smoking age to 21 passed the Senate and remains in an Assembly committee, a legislative agency estimated a $19 million a year loss in tax revenue.
In California, an analysis by the Senate appropriations committee estimated raising the age to 21 would cut tobacco and sales tax revenue by $68 million a year. That would be offset by what the analysis said could be “significant” health care cost savings to taxpayers — reaching as much as $2 billion a year.
Stores that sell tobacco products and e-cigarettes also fear the effect. Bill Dombrowski, president of the California Retailers Association, suggested that raising the smoking age would simply drive young people to the black market.
“If you raise the age, people under 21 will find the cigarettes somewhere else,” he said.