Biosecurity: Declaring War on Hawaii’s Cats

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:

The small colony of cats for whom you’ve been caring for years (sterilization and vaccination was just the beginning) lives quietly on your property. Thanks to the “cat fencing,” they’re safe from outside threats, and they’re no threat to nearby wildlife or to any neighbors who might consider them a nuisance.

And yet, they’ve been targeted for seizure and removal—or worse, eradication.

Vigilante fringe-rvationist (think Galveston’s Jim Stevenson)? No.

Online troll escaped his mother’s basement to make good on his tedious, typo-plagued, threats? No.

The party responsible, in this case, is the Hawaii Invasive Species Authority—or any party with whom the Authority might choose to contract (which, I suppose, might actually include the likes of Stevenson and the trolls).

Orwellian, sure—but maybe not all that far-fetched.

Senate Bill 2799, which is quickly making its way through the state’s Legislature, would allow any member of the Authority—or its contractors—to enter private property “to control or eradicate the invasive species after reasonable notice is given to the owner of the property.” Should the property owner fail to comply, a warrant will be obtained “commanding [a] police officer” to assist a member of the authority, or its contractor, “in gaining entry onto the premises and executing measures to control or eradicate the invasive species.”

Any costs incurred will be the responsibility of the property owner, and “in no case shall the department or any officer or agent thereof be liable for costs in any action or proceeding” that results from such action.

All in the name of “biosecurity.” Seriously, it’s right there in SB2799.

Although domestic cats are not yet officially designated as “invasive species,” they are among the species for which the Hawaii Invasive Species Council has “directed funding for prevention, control, and/or research.” (SB2799 will, it seems, also allow for such designations to be made by the Authority without sufficient public notice or input.)

At least for now, though, cats kept on private property are safe. And, there does appear to be an exemption in SB2799 for instances in which a designated invasive species “naturally dispersed from neighboring properties,” as is often the case with colony cats.

But what about the future?

As Bill Lucey, manager of the Kauai Invasive Species Committee, put it in written testimony supporting SB2799:

“We do not want the future of Hawaii to be a swarm of cats, rats and snakes, moving through a landscape of weeds devoid of native species, farmers and tourists.”

Playing a key role in all of this will be the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, which, as I reported in my previous post, is already actively promoting the witch-hunt against outdoor cats. And SB2799 proposes to add significant funding to the effort—up to $900,000 “out of the general revenues of the State of Hawaii… for positions and other operating expenditures” and another $10 million “for interagency projects and research related to invasive species” this year alone.

Imagine if just a fraction of that funding was made available to sterilize cats in underserved communities.

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SB2799 has already made it through the Water, Land, and Agriculture, and Economic Development, Environment, and Technology committees, with a single dissenting vote—from Senator Sam Slom, representing District 9. According to LegiScan, the Senate Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold a “public decision making” later today.