Interim rule restricts movement of plant material in effort to prevent spread of little fire ants on O‘ahu

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With an increased infestation of little fire ants detected in Windward O‘ahu, the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture is restricting the movement of plant material and could potentially extend the rule to Maui and Kaua‘i Counties.

Primarily focused on O‘ahu, the state agency established the rule on March 11, which went into effect on March 26. The restriction involves the movement of LFA-infested agricultural commodities including, but not limited to live plants, propagative plant parts, cut flowers, fruits, vegetables, green waste, and plant propagation media (e.g.: soil, compost), unless subjected to a treatment approved and witnessed by the HDOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch.

The interim rule is effective for one year and provides the department time to finalize permanent rules.

“The Department of Agriculture is moving forward from past policies to gain more enforcement authority to stop the spread of invasive pests,” said Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture Chairperson, Sharon Hurd. “Our concern is always that the department has enough personnel and resources to adequately and fairly administer potential quarantine actions such as those allowed by this interim rule.


“There is more optimism this year that more resources will be made available to the department to carry out the daunting task of eradicating and controlling invasive pests.”

Any person who violates this interim rule shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not less than $100, with a maximum fine of $10,000. For a second offense committed within five years of a prior conviction, the person, company, or organization shall be fined not less than $500 and not more than $25,000.

The Department of Agriculture is considering similar actions for the counties of Maui and Kaua‘i. Before such rules can be applied, there are serious challenges relating to adequate staffing within the Plant Quarantine Branch for inspection and treatment of infested properties that need to be addressed.


LFA are tiny ants, measuring approximately 1/16 of an inch in length; are a uniform pale orange in color; and generally move very slowly and are easily dislodged when disturbed. LFA sting readily when they get under clothing. The stings are painful, resulting in welts and itching that can persist for weeks. LFA stings to animals result in skin issues and when stung in or near their eyes, permanent cloudiness of the eyes can occur.

Native to South America, LFA was first discovered on Hawai‘i Island approximately 25 years ago. LFA populations have since been detected throughout most of the state, with ongoing control projects involving joint efforts between the Hawai‘i Ant Lab, and the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council, including the Invasive Species Committees in all counties in the state and HDOA.

Suspected LFA infestations on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Maui may be reported to the state’s Pest Hotline at 808-643-7378.


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