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County to bite back against fire ant

Hawaii County’s battle against the little fire ant will get a little more bite with a unanimous vote Tuesday by the County Council Finance Committee to accept $375,000 from the state Department of Agriculture and the Hawaii Invasive Species Council.

The money will be used to hire three full-time employees dedicated to an islandwide fire ant reduction program at county parks, said Parks and Recreation Department Business Manager Darren Takarue.

Takarue praised Hilo Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi, who he said was “a bulldog” in going after the state money. Little fire ants have established colonies in numerous areas following their discovery on Hawaii Island in 1999, a fact that often puts Hawaii Island at the bottom of the funding list compared to islands that recently discovered little fire ants there, he said.

The first step will be to prioritize the facilities needing treatment, Takarue said.

Once an infested park or facility is identified, the little fire ant team will apply bait on a six-week cycle, rotate the bait type based on recommendations from the Hawaii Ant Lab, and then monitor the treated area to ensure a reduction in ant infestations.

A pilot program has been in effect, targeting Richardson Ocean Park in Keaukaha and the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo for the periodic applications. The county also is exploring ways to use drones to put the ant bait into treetops.

Treatments at Richardson Ocean Park have reduced little fire ant populations by up to 40 percent, according to data collected during a recently completed pilot project involving Parks and Recreation and the Hawaii Ant Lab.

The bills and resolutions approving the funding still have to go to County Council for routine votes.

Council members agreed a lot more money will be needed to get the ants under control, not just at park facilities but also on farms and in orchards.

“This is like a war. … A war against the little fire ant,” Onishi said. “We need to win this war.”

“What we need is some serious funding,” said Puna Councilman Zendo Kern. “It’s a sleeping giant.”

West Hawaii council members pushed for control efforts on agricultural land.

“We’re never going to eradicate these nasty little creatures,” said South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford. “If we don’t want to see agriculture die on this island, we need to get them off the farms.”

Under questioning from Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan, Takarue disclosed the recommended ant bait comes under the brand names Siesta, Probait and Talstar.

Probait, a trademark of Wellmark International, is a chemical formula known as hydramethylnon. It is not intended for agricultural land, and, according to the label provided on the company’s website, “This product is toxic to fish. Do not apply directly to water, to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark.”

Siesta, a trademark of BASF, is metaflumizone. It can be applied around nonbearing fruit and nut trees up to one year before harvest. It controls ants up to eight weeks. Like Probait, Siesta shouldn’t be used too close to water. In addition, according to the label, the pesticide “is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Metaflumizone has the potential to bioaccumulate in aquatic and terrestrial organisms, and may affect the reproduction of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians if not used in accordance with the label directions.”

Talstar, by FMC Corp., is a bifenthrin pesticide, of the pyrethroid pesticide chemical family. It also bears the label warning, “Highly toxic to fish and aquatic organisms. Keep out of drains and water courses.”

County officials assured council members the pesticides are applied only well away from the shoreline.

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