Little fire ant bill awaits Ige’s signature

  • Little fire ants are shown. (Courtesy Hawaii Volcanoes National Park)

A bill that would codify a list of best practices to mitigate infestations of little fire ants is awaiting Gov. David Ige’s signature.

The bill, House Bill 1854, would require the state Department of Agriculture to work with the Hawaii Ant Lab to identify a list of best practices for little fire ant treatment, which would then be used to support the state’s invasive species training.


Cas Vanderwoude, research manager of the Hawaii Ant Lab, said there are thousands of potential best practices for managing the invasive fire ants, depending on any individual situation. However, he said, because the species has become largely entrenched on the Big Island, pest control companies tend to not recommend eradication policies, but instead ongoing maintenance policies to keep populations in check.

“It’s a bit like mowing the lawn,” Vanderwoude said. “When the lawn gets too high, you cut it. If you have fire ants, every so often you have to treat them.”

The Ant Lab website broadly recommends a strategy of laying out poisoned bait for the fire ants and then using barrier treatments to ward surviving ants away from the home, and lists a series of recommended brands.

According to the bill, the Ant Lab’s techniques are effective in killing an ant colony’s queen, preventing the species from spreading further. Despite this, pest control operators are not required to follow those techniques, instead “using less effective methods that do not completely eradicate the infestation…(creating) permanent customers who continue to require repeat service as more little fire ants return,” the bill argues.

While codifying the best practices into law — which Vanderwoude said he would have happily helped to do regardless of the bill — the bill also establishes that any pesticide whose application interferes with those practices will be added to the state’s list of banned pesticides, although no examples are listed.

Throughout the bill’s passage through the state legislature, public testimony was largely positive, with the only group opposing the bill being the Hawaii Pest Control Association, on grounds that an earlier draft of the bill would require pest control operators to take an exam proving they know the fire ant best practices. However, after that provision of the bill was removed from its current version, the Hawaii Pest Control Association is now in support of the bill.


The bill was transmitted to the governor on July 10, the last day of the 2020 legislative session. As such, Gov. Ige has until Aug. 24 to sign or veto the bill, or else it automatically becomes law.

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