Tuesday, September 24, 2002

State of Hawaii

Coqui frogs get
reprieve from deadly
caffeine buzz

A federal agency suspends a permit
to use the pesticide on the noisy critters

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Members of a local organization expressed relief after a federal agency temporarily suspended a special permit to use caffeine as a pesticide against the screeching Coqui frogs in Hawaii.

"Clearly, you can't help save the environment by poisoning. I'm really glad that we're not going to be a part of an experiment that could've been proven disastrous," said Sydney Ors Singer, president of the Coqui Hawaiian Integration and Reeducation Project (CHIRP), a group he and his wife formed to protest plans to eradicate the invasive species.

"It (the Coqui frog) is here, and it's a matter of learning how to accept the changes that were brought our way."

On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give the EPA more information on the impact caffeine has on groundwater and nontarget insects and animals before the EPA will issue an emergency three-year permit to use the caffeine spray, said Mike Pitzler, director of USDA Wildlife Services in Hawaii and Guam.

State and federal officials were to start using the caffeine on the Big Island and Kauai sometime next month, but the current action will delay that to sometime in November, when Pitzler expects the permit to be granted.

This is needed immediately because "people are going to take matters into their own hands" to eradicate Coqui frogs, said Pitzler, adding frogs have been spotted in concentrated areas of Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Big Island and Molokai.

"They are spreading. ... They are going to be everywhere," he said of the Puerto Rican frogs, which biologists believe could throw Hawaii's delicate ecosystem out of balance.

The EPA issued the state an emergency permit a year ago to experiment with concentrated caffeine as a pesticide to eradicate Coqui frogs. That permit expires Friday, but the USDA's Wildlife Services branch wanted to get a permit beginning Saturday to continue using the caffeine three more years on an emergency basis.

Pitzler said negative publicity on caffeine use to combat Coqui frogs led to the EPA's request for more information, resulting in the delay. EPA officials could not be reached for comment.

Under the emergency permit, the USDA requested a three-year exemption to use a concentrated caffeine spray that penetrates through the frog's skin, causing its heart to stop, Pitzler said.

In a written statement, Singer noted caffeine "is recognized to cause mutations in bacteria, plants, animals and human cell cultures."

Singer said CHIRP was created more than a year ago and plans to continue educating the public about Coqui frogs and caffeine use in the environment.

Some isle residents have complained about the shrill calls of the tiny Coqui frogs during night hours, causing them to lose sleep.

Along with sleepless residents, Pitzler noted that the state's nursery industry has been affected by the Coqui frogs.

Biologists warn that the long-term effect of the Coqui could adversely affect native forest birds.

Pitzler said the state Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have sent letters to the EPA supporting the use of caffeine to combat Coqui frogs, which was one of the EPA's requests.

State of Hawaii
U.S. Environmental Agency
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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