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What if? Economic Impacts of Brown Tree Snakes to Hawaii



photo of a brown treesnake What if Hawaii became “home” to brown tree snakes? How would the islands change? How would people's lives be affected? Would tourists still come?

These are some of the questions asked by NWRC economists Dr. Stephanie Shwiff, Karen Gebhardt, and Katy Kirkpatrick in a recent study estimating the potential economic impacts associated with brown tree snakes ( Boiga irregularis) in Hawaii.

Hawaii and other islands tend to be susceptible to invasion by introduced species because they often have few predators or competitors, have a lot of air and sea traffic, and typically provide a favorable habitat and climate for the introduced species. A prime example is the invasion of the brown tree snake on the Pacific island of Guam. The snake arrived on Guam shortly after World War II, probably as a stowaway on U.S. military cargo ships from another island. Without any natural predators on Guam, and with an abundant prey base, the snakes dramatically increased in number and have caused numerous snake bite incidents and power outages, and the extirpation of 10 of 13 native bird species. Although extensive research has been conducted on the snake and efforts to control its spread in Guam, few studies have measured the economic damages caused by the snake to Guam, and none on the potential economic damages if the snake was introduced to Hawaii.

“We are concerned about the potential transportation of brown tree snakes to Hawaii,” notes Dr. Stephanie Shwiff. “Like Guam, Hawaii has no endemic terrestrial snakes, and despite intensive cargo-screening measures to prevent the snake from leaving Guam, eight brown tree snakes have been found on Oahu since 1981, hitch-hiking on aircraft from Guam. Economic studies, such as this one, are one way we can help decision-makers see the potential benefits associated with various management activities.”

The economic analysis collected information on medical incidents and power outages on Guam and used it to guide estimates of potential damage to Hawaii. Data on potential impacts to Hawaii tourism were collected through a survey conducted on Oahu in January 2008.

Results showed the total estimated damage from medical incidents, power outages, and decreases in tourism to Hawaii would range from approximately $593 million to $2.14 billion annually.

Area of Damage Estimated Annual Economic Impacts
Medical 665-1,330 snakebite related injuries, costing $191,520-$303,040
Power Outages Loss of 1,209 hours per year, costing $456M-$761M
Tourism Loss of 1,400-13,000 jobs, $138M-$1.4B lost revenue


Economic impacts are one of many factors influencing the likelihood of funding for invasive species control programs. This study revealed that a brown tree snake invasion and establishment on Hawaii could have potentially permanent and costly economic consequences.

For more information, please contact nwrc@aphis.usda.gov.The related article titled “Potential economic damage from introduction of brown tree snakes, Boiga irregularis, to the islands of Hawaii” can be viewed at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/10pubs/shwiff101.pdf

 

For more information, please contact nwrc@aphis.usda.gov.


 

 


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