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Big Isle's frog battle to end without funds


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POSTED: Monday, May 25, 2009

HILO » The Big Island's war on the loud, invasive coqui frog might be over.

Efforts to stop the spread of the coqui frog are coming to a halt on the Big Island as government funding dries up.

Eleven years after coqui frogs were found on the Big Island, they have infested more than 60,000 acres, particularly in Puna, Hilo and Kona.

“;There is still some coqui eradication going on, but that's the existing budget. The new budget doesn't have any money for coqui eradication,”; said Hunter Bishop, spokesman for Mayor Billy Kenoi.

Millions of dollars were invested to kill off the frogs, but their piercing chirp has continued to creep across the island. Over the last five years, county and state governments have spent $2.6 million to fight coqui frogs on the Big Island.

Surveyors have driven across the island over the last year, using global positioning systems to mark where they have heard the frogs, said Raymond McGuire, state coqui control coordinator. The estimated 60,000 acres where they heard the frogs represent about 2.3 percent of the Big Island's land mass.

“;As the coqui expands into higher elevation ranges, the frogs will come into contact with more pristine native forests, and we're hoping to keep them out of these valuable areas,”; McGuire said. “;Once they become established in our native forests, we face the possibility of losing such native invertebrates as the happy-faced spiders or the endangered picture wing flies.”;

Coqui frogs have lengthened their reach across the island by hitching rides on people's vehicles, said Rhonda Loh, chief of natural resources for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“;Where we see frogs, we do follow up, catching them where we can,”; Loh said.

Tight budgets during the economic recession have led the government to cut coqui-fighting funding.

The Big Island's $300,000 yearly allocation for coqui frogs is now being diverted to other uses. State and federal funding is also slim.

That means the struggle against the frogs might be lost, said Roger Imoto, Hawaii Island manager for the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Forestry and Wildlife Division.

“;It definitely is. That's for sure because the funding is going away,”; Imoto said. “;It's kind of sad.”;

Programs allowing residents to report coqui populations to the government and awarding grants to buy citric acid have also been eliminated.