Frog problem represents larger failure to block pests
The state is testing a hot-water treatment to exterminate coqui frogs.
FOLLOWING the lead of a Waimanalo nursery
, state agriculture officials are testing a method that uses hot water to destroy coqui frogs that continue to plague plant growers, resorts and residents, mostly on the Big Island.
The water treatment appears to rid ornamental plants of frogs and eggs without hurting the plants themselves and to allow distribution and sales without spreading the pest to islands where the noisy amphibian has yet to establish large colonies.
At $100,000, the state's water treatment facility promises to lower the expense of eradication that has cost millions of dollars in public and private funds, a cost that would not be necessary if the state adopted smarter policies to stop unwanted plants, animals and other organisms from entering Hawaii in the first place.
The frog has become a major problem on the Big Island because of its screeching, after-dusk mating call, disturbing residents and tourists, and depressing real estate sales in areas where populations are heavy. In addition, coquis present a threat to native wildlife and hamper the agricultural economy.
The frogs are but one of many undesirable and harmful species that slip into Hawaii and cause economic and environmental problems.
An example most recently evident to the public is the damage caused by Erythrina gall wasps infesting native wiliwili trees. The wasps, first noticed on Oahu in 2005, spread quickly throughout the islands, killing trees considered culturally important to Hawaiians. The city and state have paid contractors thousands of dollars to cut down the trees, considered a key species in lowland forests and used widely as wind breaks around agriculture fields.
Residents can recall the problems caused by Salvina molesta, a decorative fish-tank plant that smothered Lake Wilson a few years ago. Removal required more than $1 million in government funds and monitoring there, and continues to draw resources at other sites, such as Enchanted Lake.
Hawaii isn't alone in combating unwanted plants and animals. A study released last month by The Nature Conservancy reports that just one invasive insect threatens devastation of 90 million ash trees in the United States with losses to the timber industry estimated at $25 billion. The study makes particular note of a micro-organism threatening ohia forests, the principal habitat for 14 native birds on federal or state endangered species lists.
Hawaii has been ineffective in blocking unwanted species, primarily because its system works backward, assuming imports won't cause problems when the assumption should be that they will until proven otherwise. In addition, inspections are lax because of underfunding, a bad policy when an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.