By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
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.”
Stink bugs, the smelly scourge of the mid-Atlantic, are hitch-hiking and gliding their way across the country. Officially known as the brown marmorated stink bug, sightings of the pest have been reported in 33 states, an increase of eight states since last fall.
“I would say people now regard them as an out-of-control pest,” says Kim Hoelmer, a research entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Newark, Del.
The National Pest Management Association warns homeowners this week that the bugs’ growing populations are likely to make infestations significantly worse this year. “This season’s stink bug population will be larger than in the past,” says Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for NPMA.
The bugs have been spotted as far west as California, as far north as Minnesota and as far south as Florida. Only the Rockies and Plains states have escaped thus far. The eight states recently joining the stink bug party are Arizona, Iowa, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, according to the USDA’s Greg Rosenthal.
Rosenthal says a report of a stink bug in a state does not necessarily mean that the pest is established or that agricultural damage has been reported in that state.
Stink bugs are named for the pungent smell they emit when frightened, disturbed or squashed.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists issued an emergency action notification after discovering noxious weed seeds and a plant pathogen in a shipment of thatched grass for roofing material at the port in Honolulu.
Agriculture specialists, while inspecting a shipment in early February, detected a large number of Imperata cylindrica, a species of a federal noxious weed.
They also found black spots on the stems of the grass, identified as a plant pathogen, Massariothea botulispora (Teng).
The agriculture specialists issued an emergency notification requiring the items be immediately exported from the United States.
"Some products can be a vehicle for harmful invasive species that can have a devastating impact on our nation’s agriculture industry, natural resources, as well as the economy," Bruce Murley, area port director for Honolulu.