NEW & NOTEWORTHY: Nominee Lists, Snail Program, a Correction

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Nominee Lists — Still Secret: The terms of two members of the state Commission on Water Resource Management end on June 30. That means that, this session, the Legislature must approve someone to replace Neal Fujiwara, who is finishing up his second and final term. It must also either approve a second term for commissioner Sumner Erdman or find someone else.

Last session, activists from the native Hawaiian and environmental communities — and their attorneys — vehemently protested the governor’s decision to nominate Maui appraiser Ted Yamamura to the commission, arguing that the administration had passed over more qualified applicants. Yamamura’s opponents also criticized the secrecy surrounding the Water Commission’s nomination process.

Under the current process, a nominating committee meets in private and submits a confidential list of the best applicants to fill vacancies on the commission. The governor picks one and the Senate either approves or disapproves.

In April, Environment Hawai`i requested from the governor’s office the list of nominees for the two Water Commission seats that were vacant at the beginning of the legislative session. The office rejected our request, citing a 1991 Office of Information Practices opinion that disclosing the list would result in a “clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy under section 92F-130(1)” of Hawai`i Revised Statutes.

Noting that the OIP issued a subsequent opinion in 2003 that disclosing the lists of nominees to fill Ethics Commission and judicial vacancies does not violate 92F-13(1), EH asked the OIP on August 21 whether the denial of our request was legal. We also asked for the OIP’s assistance in obtaining the list.

On August 22, OIP staff attorney Carlotta Amerino informed EH that the office had opened a file on our request. Last month, Amerino told us that her office would not likely issue an advisory opinion before the end of this legislative session because it is busy working on older opinion requests.

Snail Savior: Hawai`i’s rarest native snails now have a full-time, dedicated defender in David Sischo, the sole staff member of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ new Snail Extinction Prevention (SEP) program. Modeled after the DLNR’s successful Plant Extinction Prevention Program, which focuses on protecting a short list of the state’s rarest plants, the snail program aims to keep endangered Hawaiian tree snails from going extinct.

“We’re on the verge of losing a lot of species,” Sischo said at a recent meeting of the Natural Area Reserves System Commission. Although the situation is rather depressing, there are still a lot of snails to conserve, he said. The idea behind the SEP program is to create “little life boats” for the snails until science comes up with a solution for predator control.

One of the main predators of native snails is the rosy wolf snail (Euglandina rosea). Because slug poison can’t be used near trees containing native snails, for now the wolf snails are controlled mainly by “getting on your hands and knees and squashing them,” Sischo said. Although he has no staff to assist him, he does work with volunteers.

Brenden Holland of the University of Hawai`i’s Tree Snail Conservation Lab has been studying Euglandina’s prey preferences in the hopes of developing effective attractant traps that, as Sischo said, will “lure them into a pit of doom.”

Sischo says Euglandina, which eat slugs, may be following them up into trees containing native Achatinella snails.

A Clarification: In our December Board Talk column, we noted that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources was requiring landowners to pay hundreds of thousand of dollars for shoreline easements covering encroachments created by erosion. According to DLNR staff, those types of easements actually haven’t been that expensive, but have perhaps run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The most expensive easements, those that have cost more than $100,000, have been for structures originally built on or near state land.

Volume 23, Number 7 January 2013

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