Invasive pest bills killed

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Two bills that would have provided funding to combat invasive pests on the Big Island are dead in the state Senate.

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Two bills that would have provided funding to combat invasive pests on the Big Island are dead in the state Senate.

The measures would have appropriated money to help treat infestations of little fire ants and macadamia felted coccid.

Both bills, which originated in the House, passed their second readings in late March and were referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for their final readings. Neither received a hearing before that committee and did not meet the deadline for moving forward in the chambers.

House Bill 2596 was introduced by Rep. Clift Tsuji, D-Hilo, and addressed macadamia felted coccid, an invasive species from Australia that causes dieback in macadamia trees.

Macadamia nuts are one of the highest-grossing agricultural crops in the state. Most orchards are on Hawaii Island.

In 2014, an initial legislative appropriation of $360,000 created a research partnership between the Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources to study the insect and how it could be treated.

Two of the largest macadamia growers in the state, Edmund C. Olson Trust and Royal Hawaiian Orchard, supplemented the appropriation with $160,000 in funding.

The House bill would have continued the research funding and provided additional funds for treatment.

House Bill 1607 would have created a pilot coupon program for treatment of little fire ants. Residents with documented infestations of the pest on their properties would be eligible for a year’s worth of appropriate treatment.

The legislation also would have required the state Department of Agriculture to map out all infestation sites.

This was the second year Rep. Richard Onishi, D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano, proposed the little fire ant bill, and the second time it was held up in the Senate. Last year, the bill did not pass the Committee on Water, Land and Agriculture.

“We are trying to look at other potential avenues to have the department (of Agriculture) set up the program,” Onishi said Wednesday. “The department’s supportive of setting up the program, but trying to get the funds necessary to actually provide the coupons and stuff is the challenge.”

“We’re still hopeful,” he said. “It’s hard, because I think the rest of the people in the state, although they know about it (little fire ants), they don’t have personal experience.”

Onishi had little fire ants on his own property at one point, and followed the protocol proposed in his own bill — from getting the infestation confirmed by the Hilo-based Hawaii Ant Lab, to telling all of his neighbors to check their own property.

The Legislature is, however, moving forward to combat a different threat to the Big Island’s natural resources.

A bill to fund research and preventive measures for rapid ohia death passed through both chambers and is in conferencing to determine an appropriation amount.

The disease has infected more than 35,000 acres of native ohia trees on the island since it was identified in 2010. Once infected, trees die within weeks.

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“It’s unfortunate we have such big areas (to monitor), and we don’t get the support we should be getting,” Onishi said. “We’re hoping that we’re getting more resources in there before it gets too bad.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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