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Lawmakers Consider Fines for Transport of Coqui, Other Pests

February 28, 2014, 5:54 PM HST (Updated February 28, 2014, 5:55 PM)
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With Oahu battling outbreaks of coqui frogs and little fire ants popping up there and on Maui, state lawmakers are considering new methods of controlling the spread of invasive species between islands.

House Bill 1994 would regulate the movement of certain materials such as mulch and potting soil around the state and establish fines for anyone who moves materials infested with the frogs or ants.

It would also establish a state-wide task force to consider ways to prevent the spread of those and other noxious pests.

The bill passed the House Agriculture Committee last month and the Finance Committee on Wednesday.

The state Department of Agriculture would be in charge of regulating the movement of materials that could transport the pests. According to the bill’s current wording, that would include establishing quarantine areas for infested areas and the issuing of permits for movement elsewhere of materials that originated in those areas.

Scott Enright, the DOA’s director, said in written testimony that such a role would require the cooperation of multiple departments. Enright said a multi-agency group such as the Hawaii Invasive Species Council would be better suited for that role.

Those opposed to the bill included the Hawaii Export Nursery Association and the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association.

According to those groups, the bill unfairly targets agricultural producers, particularly those on the Big Island where both the coqui and little fire ant have become established.

“This bill places the blame for invasive pests to the Big Island ornamental growers who are already working so diligently to eradicate these pests and prevent the spread of same,” said Thomas Martin, president of the Hawaii Export Nursery Association.

The groups said there are already procedures in place dealing with movement of nursery products and encouraged the state to strengthen those instead of creating a new program.

“Please also note that these pests did not originate on the Big Island but came about via importation,” said Eric Tanouye, president of the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association. “This suggests that we should continue to focus on invasive species from outside the state.”

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