- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - A fungus that has killed thousands of native ohia trees on Hawaii’s Big Island has attracted the attention of local and federal government officials, who have been calling for increased efforts to fight the disease.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz asked U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell this week for more federal support in battling the disease known as rapid ohia death, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1XUV6mp).

“If this were a forest fire, we would have no hesitation mobilizing whatever assets and resources were necessary,” he said in a letter to Jewell.

The Hawaii senator’s action comes after the state Legislature approved $300,000 to help fund research to stop the fungus. The Hawaii County Council also passed a resolution last week aimed at preventing the disease’s spread through the involvement of various county departments.

“This is a significant issue on the Big Island,” said Councilman Greggor Ilagan, D-Puna, who introduced the resolution in order to “really bring (the disease) to a platform.”

Ilagan sees the impact of rapid ohia death as extending beyond Hawaii’s native ecosystems. The resolution notes that for Hawaiian cultural practitioners, ohia lehua is a physical manifestation of deities, most notably the goddess of hula, Laka.

The fungus has affected than 36,000 acres of native forest.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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