Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Geoffrey Lauer of Brewer Environmental Industries stood with 990 pounds of pure caffeine yesterday, intended to kill noisy Big Island frogs. Strict rules for applying the caffeine have prompted pest control companies not to use it.

Legal rules stall
Big Isle anti-
frog measures

Officials try to find a way to
apply the caffeine supplies
to stop the loud pests

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> The state has three tons of pure caffeine sitting in Hilo warehouses, ready to kill screeching frogs, but pest control companies do not want to use it.

The problem is state and federal rules calling for the companies to keep track of what else is killed besides frogs, said state Department of Agriculture official Lyle Wong.

The solution may be for state employees to spray the caffeine themselves.

Two Puerto Rican frog species accidentally imported to Hawaii spread rapidly in the late 1990s. The tiny greenhouse frog was not too bad, but the related, 2-inch coqui (pronounced co-KEE) is a shrieker.

Besides keeping people awake all night, it eats so many insects that experts say it could throw the environment out of balance.

The tiny frogs are about the size of a dime but have a chirp of up to 90 decibels. It infests 226 Big Island sites, compared with just 11 sites in 1998. As many as 10,000 of the frogs occupy a single acre. Maui has identified 41 coqui infestations, and there are 21 on Kauai and 20 on Oahu.

Studies showed that a caffeine solution 55 times the strength of ordinary coffee, would kill the frogs.

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved emergency use of caffeine as a pesticide, Wong said.

Wong bought 120 55-pound kegs of caffeine from China by way of a New Jersey company for $23,000. That comes to 6,600 pounds, but it won't go far, Wong said. At 200 pounds an acre applied three times, there is just enough for 11 acres.

Still, state officials expected nursery operators to hire certified pest control companies to spray the caffeine and protect their businesses.

But federal and state officials put restrictions on the use.

"We ended up putting a lot of disincentives," Wong said.

According to the EPA, only certified pest applicators can use the caffeine and areas must be surveyed both before and after the application to monitor its effects on people, birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and other amphibians.

The state and federal governments also wanted the nurseries to keep a count of other creatures killed in sample areas. That was too much for most growers.

Now Wong is seeking a federal grant to pay for spraying by state workers. He needs to get something done soon, because federal permission for emergency use of caffeine runs out this summer.

Meanwhile, nursery owners may have discovered a new one-two punch that kills the frogs.

Pyrethrin poison from chrysanthemums used to kill insects also makes the frogs sick. When frogs fall on hydrated lime in the nursery, they die. Hydrated lime is frequently used by farmers to "sweeten" soil that is too acidic.

It is illegal for Wong to advocate the pyrethrin-lime combination because it is not approved to kill frogs. But Wong is asking nursery owners to keep track of accidental kills as they make normal use of the substances.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin