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My Job: Battling Invasive Species in Hawaii

Emma Yuen is a system planner for the Hawaii Natural Area Reserves System, where she works to contain the spread of invasive species such as pigs, goats and deer

Emma Yuen

Photo: David Croxford

Name: Emma Yuen

Job: System Planner, state Natural Area Reserves System.

Experience: Six years in the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, part of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Qualifications: The daughter of banana and lychee farmers on Hawaii Island earned her B.A. in environmental public policy and M.A. in sociology from Stanford University. Earlier, she won a federal Environmental Protection Agency award for leading Hilo High’s Junior Greenpeace group through projects such as mountain tree plantings and beach cleanups.

Biggest Challenge: “The environment is often underfunded and there is enormous pressure from invasive species and wildfire in Hawaii.”

Toughest Day: “The recent intentional introduction of axis deer to Hawaii Island could be catastrophic. … The only long-term way to protect farms is to build fences. You only need 4-foot fences for feral pigs and goats, but deer can jump very high. We’d have to probably double the height of those fences at great cost.”

Rewards: “A fence we put up at Kaena Point to protect the seabird population and plants from cats, mongoose and rats resulted in the doubling of the shearwater population. It was almost immediate. We also saw success in controlling goats and deer and other hoofed animals with fences on the south slopes of Molokai. Scientists have determined that the regrowth of plants helped reduce the pressure on the watershed immediately.”

Pay: Yuen would not disclose her pay, saying it is “too little to mention,” but, she added, “It’s nice that this is a state job with benefits and vacation, but I don’t even own a car (she rides her bike to work). Instead, I am rewarded with the ability to do something significant and rewarding.”

Quote: “Hawaii’s forests are not only beautiful and important for tourism, but they are critical for stopping erosion and retaining our water supply, economic benefits that a lot of people don’t know about.”.

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