Hawaii hopes to fend off invasion by coconut rhinoceros beetle

Visitors flock to the Hawaiian Islands for sun-soaked holidays filled with silky beaches, turquoise water, lush green hillsides — and naked palm trees missing their leafy crowns?

That possibility has state officials worried because Hawaii’s iconic swaying palm trees are under attack. Their nemesis is the latest in a long line of invasive species to arrive here: the coconut rhinoceros beetle.

Much as the Asian long-horned beetle attacked maple and elm trees on the East Coast, the coconut rhinoceros beetle could devastate Hawaii’s palm trees and move on to bananas, papayas, sugar cane and other crops afterward. Adult beetles burrow into the crowns of palm trees to feed on their sap, damaging developing leaves and eventually killing the trees.

At this point, eradication is still possible. It’s going to take a long time, but it’s still possible.- Rob Curtiss, incident commander for Hawaii’s coconut rhinoceros beetle eradication program

Concerns that the thumb-sized pest, named for its curved horn, could hitch a ride to California or Florida and attack thriving palm oil and date industries there have prompted federal and state officials to declare the beetle’s discovery in Honolulu a pest emergency.

One year into the fight — Dec. 23, 2014, was the anniversary of the beetle’s discovery on coconut palms at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam — state officials are cautiously optimistic.

“At this point, eradication is still possible. It’s going to take a long time, but it’s still possible,”

Ant infestation covers 4 acres in Waimanalo

HONOLULU — An extensive survey of an area in Waimanalo has determined approximately 4 acres are infested with little fire ants, tiny invasive ants that can inflict painful stings. Crews surveyed more than 50 acres from Kumuhau Street to Mahailua Street in Waimanalo and determined that the infestation area is on state land and in mulch areas located outside nurseries in that area. Little fire ants were detected previously on hapuu from Hawaii Island at a few nurseries and garden shops earlier this year, but those areas were treated and are now clear of little fire ants.

Survey operations were headed by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and involved several agencies including: the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaii Ant Laboratory, Oahu Invasive Species Committee, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, Hawaii Invasive Species Council, The Nature Conservancy, University of Hawaii, City & County of Honolulu, and Hawaii National Guard.

Little fire ants have been found on Hawaii Island since 1999. In late December, the ant was detected on hapuu logs (Hawaiian fern) at retail stores on Maui and Oahu. Since its detection, Oahu and Maui nurseries have been surveyed. Five Oahu nurseries, three of which were in Waimanalo, were found to have small infestations of little fire ants, which were treated and are clear of the ants.

Ant infestation covers 4 acres in Waimanalo | West Hawaii Today

8 Pets That May Actually Be Illegal In Your State

Untitled-1

At some point in our lives, the majority of us have known the joys of caring for a beloved pet, whether it was an adorably loyal Labrador or a Jackson’s chameleon with a face only a mother could love.

Considering that 68 percent of U.S. households own a pet, it’s clear the nation loves its companion animals.

However, you might be surprised to learn that some common critters are actually illegal to own in certain states.

In many states, seemingly harmless animals are seen as a threat to native plants, wildlife or agriculture, or as a danger to public health.

Hawaii, for instance, is one of the most restrictive states when it comes to letting plant and animal species into its borders. Due to its fragile ecosystem and in an effort to protect against the propagation of invasive species, the list of banned animals is quite lengthy. According to Janelle Saneishi, a public information officer for the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, most of the state’s illegal species would have no natural predators in Hawaii, meaning there’d be nothing to keep the population in check.

Be sure to check your local county, state or federal laws or guidelines regarding pet ownership. Laws can vary widely from state to state and may even conflict with federal or other guidelines.

Invasive species bill has good intention, serious consequences

A Maui coffee farmer said controlling invasive species such as the notorious coqui frog and fire ant is a Big Island problem.

“They already have them, we don’t. Why put the cost on us?” asked Bobbie Becker, owner of Maui Mountain Coffee Farm. “They’ve got it there.”

Becker is a supporter of state Senate Bill 2347, which soon will be taken up by the House Finance Committee.

The legislation, written as an attempt to control the interisland spread of invasive species to the local agriculture industry, was amended last Friday. Parts of the bill would prohibit the transportation of the pests and establishes penalties for violations, including language that would require any commercial entity that transports the invasive species to pay a fine equal to the value of the infested shipment.

Eric Tanouye, president of Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association and vice president of Green Point Nurseries, called the bill “a detriment to the Big Island.”

“They are distracting, and distracting all of us from the main objective,” he said. “How do we make ag thrive on the Big Island and in the State of Hawaii?”

Springer Kaye, manager of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, said the committee agrees with the intent of the bill, but does not support SB 2347 and thinks it puts the Big Island at a disadvantage.

Invasive species bill stirs debate

A Maui coffee farmer said controlling invasive species such as the coqui frog and fire ant is a Big Island problem.

“They already have them, we don’t. Why put the cost on us?” asked Bobbie Becker, owner of Maui Mountain Coffee Farm. “They’ve got it there.”

Becker is a supporter of state Senate Bill 2347 — written as an attempt to control the spread of invasive species to the local agriculture industry — which soon will be taken up by the House Finance Committee.

Parts of the bill would prohibit the transportation of the pests and establishes penalties for violations, including language that would require any commercial entity that transports invasive species to pay a fine equal to the value of the infested shipment.

Eric Tanouye, president of Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association and vice president of Green Point Nurseries, called the bill “a detriment to the Big Island.”

“They are distracting, and distracting all of us from the main objective,” he said. “How do we make ag thrive on the Big Island and in the State of Hawaii?”

Springer Kaye, manager of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, said the committee agrees with the intent of the bill, but does not support SB 2347 and thinks it puts the Big Island at a disadvantage.

“Unfortunately, SB 2347 specifically targets the already struggling horticulture and agriculture economy on the Island of Hawaii, without providing any appropriation to re-establish the state programs required to effectively stop the spread of invasive species,”

Measure in state Legislature targets alien little fire ants

A bill in the state House would provide $500,000 toward destroying little fire ants.

Of all the ants in all the world, Hawaii had to get bitten by this one.

Hawaii lawmakers on Monday advanced a bill aiming to study and kill the little fire ant, a hard-stinging pipsqueak that threatens the state’s economy and ecology.

House Bill 2469 would provide more than $500,000 toward coordinating efforts to corral and destroy the little fire ant. It includes money to pay for trained dogs to sniff out the tiny pests and for public outreach.

At 1/16th of an inch long, the copper-colored ant does not cut a formidable figure. But since it first landed on Hawaii island 15 years ago, possibly as a stowaway on a potted plant from Florida, the ant has spread on the Big Island and has popped up on Maui, Oahu and Kauai.

Of the perhaps 30,000 species of ants on Earth, only six are considered “really nasty,” said Cas Vanderwoude, the research manager of the Hawaii Ant Lab at the University of Hawaii. Of those six, he said, the little fire ant poses the greatest potential threat to Hawaii.

“Our lifestyle and climate just suit this animal down to a T,” he said. “If I was a little fire ant and wanted to go on vacation, I’d come to Hawaii.”

The ants have proved onerous for several reasons, Vanderwoude said. They live in trees, where they infest crops and bite agricultural workers. They also live on the ground, where they attack people and pets, perhaps partially blinding cats and dogs by stinging their eyes. A single square foot of infested ground can contain 2,000 ants.

The ants travel between islands by hitching rides on crops and propagated plants. That threatens to undermine agricultural exchange among the islands and beyond. The ants also drive away insects, birds, lizards and mammals that prey on other pest insects, further harming crops.

Feds to air-drop toxic mice onto Guam jungles

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam » Dead mice laced with painkillers are about to rain down on Guam’s jungle canopy. They are scientists’ prescription for a headache that has caused the tiny U.S. territory misery for more than 60 years: the brown tree snake.

Most of Guam’s native bird species are extinct because of the snake, which reached the island’s thick jungles by hitching rides from the South Pacific on U.S. military ships shortly after World War II. There may be 2 million of the reptiles on Guam now, decimating wildlife, biting residents and even knocking out electricity by slithering onto power lines.

More than 3,000 miles away, Hawaii environmental officials have long feared a similar invasion — which in their case likely would be a “snakes on a plane” scenario. That would cost the state many vulnerable species and billions of dollars, but the risk will fall if Guam’s air-drop strategy succeeds.

“We are taking this to a new phase,” said Daniel Vice, assistant state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in Hawaii, Guam, and the Pacific Islands. “There really is no other place in the world with a snake problem like Guam.”

Brown tree snakes are generally a few feet long but can grow to be more than 10 feet in length. Most of Guam’s native birds were defenseless against the nocturnal, tree-based predators, and within a few decades of the reptile’s arrival, nearly all of them were wiped out.

The snakes can also climb power poles and wires, causing blackouts, or slither into homes and bite people, including babies; they use venom on their prey but it is not lethal to humans.

The infestation and the toll it has taken on native wildlife have tarnished Guam’s image as a tourism haven, though the snakes are rarely seen outside their jungle habitat.

The solution to this headache, fittingly enough, is acetaminophen, the active ingredient in painkillers including Tylenol.

The strategy takes advantage of the snake’s two big weaknesses. Unlike most snakes, brown tree snakes are happy to eat prey they didn’t kill themselves, and they are highly vulnerable to acetaminophen, which is harmless to humans.

The upcoming mice drop is targeted to hit snakes near Guam’s sprawling Andersen Air Force Base, which is surrounded by heavy foliage and if compromised would offer the snakes a potential ticket off the island. Using helicopters, the dead neonatal mice will be dropped by hand, one by one.

U.S. government scientists have been perfecting the mice-drop strategy for more than a decade with support from the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior.

To keep the mice bait from dropping all the way to the ground, where it could be eaten by other animals or attract insects as they rot, researchers have developed a flotation device with streamers designed to catch in the branches of the forest foliage, where the snakes live and feed.

Experts say the impact on other species will be minimal, particularly since the snakes have themselves wiped out the birds that might have been most at risk.

High drama: Qantas python’s flying circus

QANTAS had its own dramatic “snakes on a plane” episode when a three-metre python joined passengers on an early morning flight to Papua New Guinea.

But unlike Samuel L. Jackson’s 2006 fictional Hollywood blockbuster in which a nest of vipers causes death and destruction on a jet, this reptile was concerned only with self-preservation.

QF191 was about 20 minutes into its 6.15am flight from Cairns to Port Moresby on Thursday when a woman pointed outside the plane and told cabin crew: “There’s a snake on the wing … There’s its head and if you look closely you can see a fraction of its body.”

While some passengers scoffed in disbelief, she was correct.

Rick Shine, a snake expert at the University of Sydney, said the specimen was a “very uncomfortable” scrub python, the longest snake in Australia.

“There’s no way it could be anything else,” he said. “They’re common in north Queensland. They’re ambush predators and if there are rodents anywhere nearby, they’ll most likely be in the vicinity. They often find their way into tight ceiling spaces in houses, although I’ve never heard of one on a plane until now.”

One passenger, Robert Weber, a website designer in Cairns, said: “The people at the front were oblivious to what was going on but the passengers at the back were all totally focused on the snake and how it might have got onto the aircraft.

“There was no panic. At no time did anyone stop to consider that there might be others on board.”

USDA approves fireweed control

By HUNTER BISHOP

Tribune-Herald staff writer

hbishop@hawaiitribune-herald.com

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye announced Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a biocontrol project aimed at slowing the spread of fireweed, or Madagascar ragwort, on the islands of Hawaii and Maui.

Fireweed is a noxious, invasive species that has infected an estimated 850,000 acres on the two islands, more than 20 percent of the state’s agricultural pasture lands.

The weed has no natural predators in Hawaii and is resistant to drought which allows it to spread rapidly, and it is expected to spread to an additional 1.5 million acres in the next 10 years if left unchecked.

Agriculture officials plan to release a species of moth next month on the two islands. The moths, which, like fireweed, are native to Madagascar, have been studied under quarantine in Hawaii since 1999. They are known to feed on fireweed, which is toxic to livestock.

Tim Richards, president of Kahua Ranch and past president of the Hawaii Cattleman’s Council, said the news of the approval is huge for Hawaii, “and that’s an understatement.”

For the past 10 years, the cattle ranchers have been losing the battle against fireweed, using chemicals and mechanical means in an attempt to control it. But due to the immense size of the infestation, “those methods are not feasible or economical,” Inouye said.

“It’s an ongoing ecological wreck,” Richards said, spreading up from the coast into the rain forests. “Because of the drought it grows quickly.”