UPDATE (12:12 p.m.) The Committee on Agriculture recommended that the measure be passed, unammended.
HONOLULU, Hawaii – The infestation of the stinging, invasive little fire ant on Hawaii Island would be mapped and coupons for pesticide treatment would be made available if lawmakers manage to make House Bill 1403 law.
HB1403 goes before a joint House Committee on Agriculture and Economic Development and Business today. The bill mandates the Department of Agriculture to establish a little fire ant (LFA) Pesticide Treatment Coupon Pilot Project and site map for Hawaii County; no small task considering the widespread presence of LFA on the island. The bill requires the Department to submit reports to the Legislature prior to the 2016 and 2017 Regular Sessions.
The little fire ant is considered one of Hawaii’s worst invasive pests, not only because of its nasty sting, but because the ant nurtures other invasive pests such as aphids and mealy bugs, damaging agricultural industry. Hawaii County was the first to be infested and the spread around the island has not been stopped.
“The LFA plague invading our island is no joke,” wrote Nate Hayward, vice president of the Kohala chapter of the Hawaii Farmers Union United, one of many who submitted testimony in support of the bill. “I have personally been bitten on the eyelid while harvesting fruit, resulting in half an hour of burning pain, blurred vision, and swelling from only one bite! For those of us focused on fruit production and food sustainability, the LFA has the potential to degrade the productivity of all our farms as they become harder to work in and become dominated by the LFA.”
From the language of the bill:
The legislature further finds that when compared to the other counties, the county of Hawaii has been effected the most by the little fire ant. The University of Hawaii, the county of Hawaii, and the department of agriculture must collaborate to develop and implement effective measures to address the impacts of the little fire ant in the county of Hawaii.
The department of agriculture’s little fire ant program was created to survey, detect, and develop the most efficient little fire ant management strategy with minimal impact to the State’s tropical ecosystem and non-target organisms, while serving as the role model to eradicate the little fire ant in all communities. The legislature finds that the department of agriculture needs to be more proactive and aggressive in implementing its current fire ant program.House Bill 1403
Under the proposed bill, the Department of Agriculture shall begin a pilot pesticide treatment coupon project within its current little fire ant program. “The pilot project shall distribute coupons,” the bill states, “redeemable for appropriate pesticide at suppliers or vendors within the county of Hawaii at no cost to individuals who have reported and verified to the department the presence of little fire ants on their property within the county of Hawaii. Each coupon shall be valid for a one-year supply of the department’s recommended treatment plan.”
The Ag Department will also create a map that “indicates all little fire ant sites in the county of Hawaii by using all its available data, including verified reports of little fire ant sites.” The bill says the maps shall be updated periodically and made available on the department’s website.
Hawaii Island’s seven state representatives have teamed up to introduce the measure.
The Department of Agriculture has concerns with the implementation of the bill.
The Department understands the harmful and invasive nature of LFA. As such, the Department has recently provided support to Hawaii County for a pilot program to combat LFA beginning with Hawaii County parks. The Department has also provided funding and support for the Hawaii Ant Lab, an organization that has been on the forefront in the fight against LFA and has created new and innovative methods to treat and eradicate LFA infestations. Furthermore, it is our understanding that the Hawaii Ant Lab is currently working on a map of known LFA infestations throughout the Big Island and further resources for the Hawaii Ant Lab could help them to finish this project and disseminate that information.
In regards to the coupon pilot project, the Department is concerned about the resources that would be required to monitor such a program. It would be very difficult for the Department, with its given resources, to verify and monitor if the pesticides were being used for the purpose of controlling LFA or for other purposes.Department of Agriculture on Feb. 10, 2015