CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
State agricultural officials inspected Christmas tree containers yesterday that were held because of wasps. After a worker shook trees, Kananionapuaokalani Lai, left, plant and pest control aide, and Cindy Nakamura, plant inspector, searched the ground for insects.
Christmas trees clear after wasp inspection
A third container of trees from Oregon is to be inspected further tomorrow
Two of three shipping containers filled with hundreds of Christmas trees were cleared to be released to retailers yesterday after further inspection for German yellow jacket wasps.
Four of 101 containers from Oregon were sealed over the weekend after German yellow jackets, or Vespula germanica, were discovered after an initial inspection conducted on Sunday. It was the first large tree shipment to Hawaii. A third container is to be further inspected tomorrow, and the fourth container was sent back to Oregon. Each container was filled with more than 300 trees, primarily Douglas firs.
After each tree was vigorously shaken in a screen-covered area at Sand Island, a couple of crew members wearing protective rubber gloves sifted through fallen needles for any unwanted critters, focusing their search on the aggressive wasps.
Agricultural officials said the non-native wasps frequent urban areas and can move into people's homes and yards. The pests can also cause a nuisance at picnics since they are attracted to food such as tuna and beef patties.
A can of tuna was used in the container yesterday as a trap to attract any wasps.
Two German yellow jackets, one alive and one dead, were found in the first container. The living wasp was determined to be a queen. Another queen wasp was also found in the second container, said state entomologist Darcy Oishi.
Domingo Cravalho Jr., chief of the Department of Agriculture's Inspection and Compliance Section, said their main concern was intercepting any queen wasps. "The queen can establish a new colony," he said.
Crew members also discovered more than several Western yellow jackets, or Vespula pennsylvanica, in the containers. While they are not considered as aggressive as the German wasps, they still can cause significant environmental damage, Oishi said.
Experts can determine the difference between Western yellow jackets, which exist in high elevations on the Big Island, and German yellow jackets by the yellow and black patterns, body structure and shape.
About 105 containers filled with trees are expected to arrive Saturday. Officials said the last big shipment of trees is expected to arrive Dec. 2. About 150,000 trees arrive in Hawaii during the holiday season, said Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi.
A couple of staff members from the department had recently traveled to Oregon and Washington to work closely with agricultural officials and tree growers. It was the first time in several years that officials worked face to face with officials in the two states to discuss ways to further reduce the risk of non-native pests entering Hawaii, Cravalho said. In recent years, officials have relied on phone calls and e-mails to communicate.
"We're hoping to continue this relationship so they can better understand our worries about the importance of Christmas trees and the pests associated with it," Cravalho said.
Some on the mainland do not fully understand the risks state officials are concerned about involving invasive pests because Hawaii is isolated.
"They don't realize that on the mainland it's a continuous land mass made up of different states, and there is no boundaries to where these things can go," Cravalho said. "And as such, they don't understand island concepts. We have natural barriers. Things don't get here naturally very often."