Hawaii County could receive $306,237 to evict the little fire ant from its parks.
The Senate Committee on Ways and Means will consider a bill today to provide the funds to the county Parks and Recreation Department as part of a pilot project.
According to Senate Bill 2920, the funds would be used to address the little fire ants’ spread within county parks, test various pesticides for controlling and eradicating the invasive species, and develop strategies other counties can implement.
The copper-colored ant is small, about 1/16 of an inch long. But it packs quite a punch. Its bite is painful, and might cause welts and itching.
Parks spokesman Jason Armstrong said the ant was identified at Richardson Ocean Park and the Keaau Senior Center.
The Hawaii Ant Lab also lists on its website fire ant colonies elsewhere along the waterfront in Hilo, including at Onekahakaha Park, Leleiwi Beach Park, and an area along Ocean View Drive as far back as 2011.
Armstrong said the department received a few complaints about people being bitten.
“Some of our workers have been bitten so badly they couldn’t continue working (for a day),” he said.
Those workers were bitten at Richardson Ocean Park while doing hedge maintenance work, Armstrong said.
If the funds are approved, he said the department would like to hire three full-time people to address the fire ant problem islandwide.
Armstrong said the department has been working with the Hawaii Ant Lab on the issue.
“Our parks remain open, they remain free and they remain safe,” he said. “However, park users should be aware of their surroundings and take precautions.
“If they are under trees along the ocean and, if they feel any bites, they should apply ointment or other appropriate remedies.”
The ants were first reported on the Big Island about 15 years ago.
They 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.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.