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Bill seeks to squash little fire ants

April 2, 2014 - 7:43am

A bill seeking to help Hawaii County combat little fire ants in its parks will face its last committee today.

SB 2920 would grant the county an unspecified amount of funding as part of a pilot project for fire ant containment.

A statewide education campaign would also be funded. An earlier version of the bill offered $306,237.

The House Finance Committee will hear the bill, as well as likely consider reinserting a funding amount. If approved, the bill would then be up for a full floor vote in the House. The Senate already passed the measure.

The ants were first detected on the Big Island in 1999, and have since spread to oceanfront areas in Hilo, including Richardson Ocean Park, Onekahakaha Park and Leleiwi Beach Park.

In the last few weeks, they were also confirmed at Liliuokalani Park and Gardens, said Casper Vanderwoude, manager of the Hawaii Ant Lab.

The bill says funding would be used to test different types of pesticides for controlling and eradicating the ants, develop strategies that can be used on other islands, and provide for a “canine detection team.”

The lab has partnered with the county Department of Parks and Recreation on the issue, and would be involved in the project.

Vanderwoude said his team has applied baits with a slow-acting toxin at Richardson Ocean Park twice, most recently last week.

The county closed the park for the day to allow the bait to be applied. Vanderwoude said it doesn’t pose a risk to people or the environment.

“I’ve made absolutely certain we are using the least toxic alternative product and that’s being applied in a way that is safe and effective,” he said.

It also falls short of a knock-out punch. He said the pesticide, brought into nests by foraging ants, will reduce the population.

But Vanderwoude said he’s not expecting to be able to remove all fire ants from the park, especially since neighboring properties are also infested.

“It’s a little bit like cutting the lawn,” he said. “It’s an activity that needs to be done on a regular basis to keep population levels down so that it’s no longer bothersome.”

As their name suggests, the ants are known for their bite.

Vanderwoude said symptoms can be similar to an allergic reaction but the bites can also cause large welts. He said containment efforts at Richardson Ocean Park have been funded with the help of a Hawaii Tourism Authority grant. If approved, the bill would provide a more stable source of funding, Vanderwoude said.

“You’re always scratching for money,” he said. “Any extra funding would certainly be useful.”

The ants can be found from lower Puna to Laupahoehoe, according to the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

They are also found on Maui, Oahu and Kauai.

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