East Hawaii News

County to Battle Little Fire Ants at Parks Islandwide

July 7, 2014, 5:14 PM HST
* Updated July 7, 5:16 PM
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Thanks to an influx of funding, the county is preparing to battle little fire ants at parks across the Big Island.

The county Department of Parks and Recreation announced today it is receiving $375,000 which will allow it to hire up to three workers whose sole duty will be to take on the tiny stinging insects.

The state Department of Agriculture is providing $200,000 and the Hawaii Invasive Species Council is chipping in $175,000 for the effort.

The funding will pay for the workers, provide them transportation and purchase ant bait and equipment.

Exactly which parks will be the first for treatment remains to be determined.

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“We’re going to be assessing parks and prioritize those that have the greatest infestations,” said spokesman Jason Armstrong.

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The department has already had three rounds of treatment for little fire ants this year at Richardson Ocean Park, a popular Hilo hang-out for beach-goers.

Parks and Recreation estimates the effort done in conjunction with the University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Ant Lab, has reduced the infestations there by up to 40%.

New park areas selected will have bait applied on six-week cycles based on recommendations from the Hawaii Ant Lab.

Richardson Ocean Park in Hilo has been the scene of three rounds of treatment for little fire ants so far this year. File photo.

Richardson Ocean Park in Hilo has been the scene of three rounds of treatment for little fire ants so far this year. File photo.

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A variety of attempts by lawmakers to appropriate funds specifically for little fire ant control failed during the past legislative session.

Those efforts included a pilot project at Big Island parks that was later amended to include establishment of a canine ant-detection team.

Ultimately, one Big Island lawmaker said, the House and Senate money committees felt a blanket appropriation of $5 million to the Hawaii Invasive Species Council was sufficient.

In the past several months, little fire ant infestations have turned up on Maui and in several places on Oahu. The Department of Agriculture and those islands’ invasive species councils are working to eradicate or control their spread.

Since the ants were first discovered on the Big Island in 1999 they have spread to many areas of the island. UH economists estimate the annual impact from the pests at $150 million annually on the Big Island alone.

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