Little Fire Ant Spreads to Kona

Agricultural officials have confirmed the spread of the invasive Little Fire Ant from populations in East Hawaii to the West side of the Island.

The species was first detected in the Big Island’s Puna district in 1999.  The new finding was made at two locations in Kailua-Kona—one at a residence, and the other at a landscaping firm that may have been infested for two years, according to the owner.

Photo of fire ant colony courtesy R. Heu and the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

Image courtesy W. Nagamine & the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

State entomologists believe that it is likely that there may be other unreported locations that are infested in West Hawaii.

The invasive species was confirmed here on Maui four months ago at a farm in Waihee.

The little fire ant (LFA) is considered among the world’s worst invasive species, producing painful stings and large red welts that can cause blindness in pets.  The species is originally from South America.  The tiny ants are just 1/16th inch long, are pale orange in color and move slowly.  They can build up very large colonies on the ground and in trees and other vegetation and completely overrun a property.  Agricultural official say they will also freely move into homes.

Surveys determined that LFA appeared to have been on the west side of Hawaii Island for several years prior to their initial detection and was widely distributed in Puna.  Attention was then focused on controlling ant populations and preventing the spread to uninfested areas on the island and to other islands.

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Supporting Information Courtesy the Hawaii Department of Agriculture)

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VIDEO: Decision Deferred in Debate Over East Maui Water

By Wendy Osher

A decision on the heated debate over water rights in east Maui will wait.  That’s the decision state commission members made today as they deferred action on stream flow recommendations at 19 east Maui streams.

On one side, taro farmers and subsistence users are fighting for cultural rights while employees at the state’s last sugar mill are fighting for their livelihood and jobs in a clearly slowed economy.

A full day of testimony concluded yesterday, but not without incident. The meeting was called into recess when Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. demanded time to fully express his thoughts on the issue.

Maxwell was among a list of more than 100 people who signed up to speak before the commission.  Testimony resumed well into the evening with those on both sides of the issue airing their concerns.  Activist Walter Ritte Jr. of Molokai also expressed frustration over the approach that he said focused on science instead of culture.

Attorney Alan Murakami with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. spoke on behalf of the group Na Moku Aupuni O koolau Hui, which filed the original petition to amend interim instream flow standards at a total of 27 East Maui streams.  A decision on eight of those streams was made last year, with the remaining waterways being the focus of current discussion.

Honopou Resident and life-long taro farmer Beatrice Kepani Kekahuna was among three residents listed on the original petition who are fighting not only for water rights, but for the continuance a lifestyle that some argue is being threatened by continued water diversions.

Kekahuna’s neice, and fellow Honopou resident, Lynn Scott said that although restorations were made to a portion of the Honopou stream last year, her family continues to struggle in maintaining a consistent source of water.

Meantime, workers and executives with Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company expressed the need for maintaining stream flows to their crops in central Maui.  HC&S general Manager Chris Benjamin was among those who testified.

Others in the agricultural industry also voiced support for the staff recommendation to keep flows at status quo in all but one of the 19 remaining streams.  Sandra Kunimoto, the chair of the department of agriculture, and Warren Watanabe, Executive Director of the Maui County Farm Bureau noted the importance of the island’s agricultural industry.

In addition to the benefits of keeping Maui green, Michael Ribao, Manager of the power supply at Maui Electric Company spoke of the indirect benefits of sugar production on the island’s clean energy supply.

With many families and businesses feeling the impact of a slow economy, the potential impacts of lost water to HC&S and the rippling impact on its workforce were among the areas of concern. We spoke with Willie Kennison, the Maui Division Director of the ILWU Local 142.

The State Commission on Water Resource Managementdeffered immediate action on the recommendations and plans to revisit the issue in three months.

Invasive Fire Ant Found at Farm in Waihee, Maui

An invasive, stinging ant called the Little Fire Ant (LFA) has been discovered on a farm in Waihee, on Maui.  Agricultural officials say it appears that the ant infestation is confined to a ½-acre area on the farm and the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) is preparing an eradication program.  Although this ant species has been on the Big Island since at least 1999, this is the first discovery of the ant on Maui.

Image courtesy W. Nagamine & the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

Image courtesy W. Nagamine & the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

Photo of fire ant colony courtesy R. Heu and the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

Photo of fire ant colony courtesy R. Heu and the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.

LFA are tiny ants, measuring 1/16th inch long, are pale orange in color and move slowly.  They can produce painful stings and large red welts and cause blindness in pets.  They can build up very large colonies on the ground and in trees and other vegetation and completely overrun a property.  They can also freely move into homes..

The following is a chronology of events on Maui:

On October 2, 2009, the HDOA’s entomologist on Maui followed up on a call about ants stinging people on a farm in Waihee.  Ant specimens were collected and sent to Honolulu, where the ant was positively identified as LFA, Wasmannia auropunctata, on October 5th.

On October 6th, HDOA’s Maui entomologist and two Plant Quarantine inspectors surveyed Waihee Elementary School, which is located about ¼ mile from the infested farm.  No LFA were detected at the school.

From October 7 through the 13th, staff from Honolulu and the Big Island joined the Maui crew to conduct surveys at the infestation site and determined that LFA is confined to about 1/2 acre of the property.  Surveys determined that the ant did not occur in the surrounding area, which includes macadamia nut fields and other private lands.

HDOA is working with the landowner, to eradicate the ant on that property.  HDOA is using a combination of techniques to confine the ants and eradicate them, which involves using two types of ant baits and restricting the movement of infested material off and within the property.  Entomologists report that, by the size of the ant colonies, LFA may have been at the site for about one year.

The department is also conducting trace back and trace forward research to determine the original source of the ants and the potential places where it may have been moved.

HDOA has been conducting surveys for this ant throughout Maui, but will increase this effort by training Maui County field crews about this stinging ant and the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) on how to conduct surveys for LFA at high-risk areas on Maui. MISC has received funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to conduct these surveys.

HDOA would like to request the public’s help in determining if there are other infestations on the island.  Suspected LFA or other stinging ants on Maui should be reported to the Maui office of HDOA Plant Quarantine Branch at 873-3962 or to the State’s toll-free PEST HOTLINE at 643-PEST (7378).

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Information provided by the State Department of Agriculture)

Maui Panel Of Professionals To Address Ag Furloughs

A panel of professionals on Maui will update the pubic on the impacts of potential furloughs facing the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.  Earlier this week, the state announced the temporary restoration of 22 plant quarantine inspector positions that were initially slated for elimination.  The temporary reprieve is good for a single year, but does not cover all of the cuts. Here on Maui, three positions will be eliminated for a total staffing of 11.  The presentation will be hosted by the Kula Community Association on Tuesday, October 6th.

Photo by Wendy Osher.

Photo by Wendy Osher.

The panel was organized by Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares as a way to bring the most up-to-date information to various Maui communities.

Panelists say potential impacts could result in threats to the environment, agricultural industry, tourism, and public health and safety.

The group of presenters include Anna Mae Shishido – Maui County Supervisor of the Department of Agriculture’s Plant Quarantine Branch, Warren Watanabe – Executive Director of the Maui County Farm Bureau, Teya Penniman – Manager of the Maui Invasive Species Committee, and Kuhea Paracuelles – Environmental Coordinator, Office of the Mayor.

The Kula Community Association will host the group at its next meeting, which will be open to its entire membership and the community-at-large. It will be held at the Kula Elementary School cafeteria on Tuesday, October 6th, starting at 6:00 p.m.

(Posted by Wendy Osher)

HDOA Restores 22 Agriculture Inspector Positions

The Hawai`i Department of Agriculture has announced the temporary restoration of 22 plant quarantine inspector positions that were slated to be eliminated as part of the state’s effort to close a nearly $900 million budget shortfall.  In August, 50 of the state’s 83 agricultural inspectors were issued Reduction-In-Force notices.  The revision will allow the department to further support core inspection services at all ports statewide; however, state officials say inspection capacity will still be significantly decreased from current levels.  Here on Maui, three positions will be cut under the revision for a total staffing of 11.

File Photo by Wendy Osher.

File Photo by Wendy Osher.

To restore the 22 positions, a total of about $1.8 million from alternate sources of funding will be transferred to the General Fund. On August 18th, the Hawai`i Invasive Species Council approved $600,000 earmarked for invasive species prevention to be used to fund some of the positions.  In addition, $1.2 million will be transferred from fees collected in the Pest Inspection, Quarantine and Eradication Special Fund.  Maritime and airline companies that bring in cargo to Hawai`i are required to pay 50 cents per 1,000 lbs. of cargo into this special fund for inspection, quarantine and eradication of invasive species that may be transported into the state.  These actions will fund the 22 positions for a single year.

“The department continues to look for alternative sources of funding,” said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, Chairperson of the Hawai`i Board of Agriculture.  “In addition, we are working on increasing coordination of inspection services to make the most efficient use of our work force and minimize the disruption to our important agricultural, food and shipping industries,” said Kunimoto.

The changes will result in the following adjustment in inspection coverage:

Port Pre-RIF Post-RIF

Hilo                    10                                  6

Kona                   4                                   3

Kaua‘i                 3                                   2

Maui                  14                                  11

O‘ahu                52                                  33

Total                 83                                  55

With reduced staffing, priorities for inspectors will be focused on all incoming cargo from Guam to prevent the introduction of the brown treesnake, and to inspect food for human consumption and animal feed. The department is also working closely with Federal partners and the agriculture industry to share responsibilities and develop alternate inspection arrangements. 

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Information provided by the State Department of Agriculture)