With funds in hand,
Big Isle ready to
do battle on coqui

More than $1 million is available
to drive control programs

HILO » Forty government officials and private citizens mapped out yesterday how to spend more than $1 million to control and eradicate coqui frogs on the Big Island.

The money, from federal, state, and county sources, is the largest amount ever available at one time since the noisy, nonnative frogs began to gain widespread recognition as pests in the late 1990s.

"Hopefully, now that we've got some funding, we can begin to find out what works," said Billy Kenoi, Mayor Harry Kim's aide in charge of the frog problem.

Researchers previously learned that sprays of caffeine, then citric acid, and most recently, much cheaper hydrated lime are effective in killing the frogs in test situations. The coming community efforts at eradication will be the most widespread to date.

Kenoi envisions grants of up to $5,000 each to let communities do their own control.

A few people find the loud mating calls of the male coquis to be pleasant. But with the sound reaching intensity as loud as a table saw, and the numbers of frogs reaching 12,000 per acre, most people in Hawaii find them maddening as they screech all night, every night.

"People aren't bothered by one, so they wait," said Rene Siracusa of the environmental group Malama O Puna.

"Don't wait until you have 300," Kenoi said. "Call when you have one." His phone number is 961-8508.

Besides wrecking people's sleep, the frogs may cause environmental damage by gobbling insects normally eaten by other creatures, and they may have a negative economic impact on the real estate market and tourism industry, Kenoi said.

Funding includes $750,000 from Hawaii County, $100,000 from the state Legislature, and $225,000 from the federal government, he said. An additional $200,000 from the Legislature will be distributed to the other counties.

Some of the money will be used to buy as many as 20 more sprayers for community use. Those would be added to 16 sprayers now available form Big Island Invasive Species Committee, the state Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The 100-gallon sprayer fits on the back of a pickup truck, while the 300-gallon size requires a trailer.

Julie Leialoha of the Invasive Species Committee said her group will focus on controlling the frogs at plant nurseries, but she will help communities set up their own control efforts.

Ron Morton of the Kaloko Mauka community in Kona estimated his group would need $25,000 to keep the frogs from spreading into adjoining state forests.

A state law allows government agencies to control pests on private property. But Siracusa said the state Department of Agriculture hasn't declared the coqui as a pest and may not have authority to do so.

State. Rep. Clifton Tsuji (D, Hilo-Glenwood), elected last year on an anti-coqui platform, said he will look into getting the needed designation.

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