Officials survey a dozen Waimanalo properties for fire ants

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Apr 03 2014 07:30:00 PM HST

Inspectors began canvassing Waimanalo trying to determine where fire ants might have spread after finding a nest near a plant nursery.

HONLULU -

The discovery of nests of fire ants found in some Waimanalo trees last Thursday triggered an effort to understand the extent of the outbreak.

Click here to watch Catherine Cruz's report.

Agriculture inspectors, along with help from four other federal and local agencies collected more than a thousand samples of ants of all kinds from an area along Waikupunaha Street.

A team of 16 people took part and will work to identify the samples and map out where any nests of fire ants are found.

The process may take about a week.

This latest find took some Waimanalo businesses by surprise.

"I wasn't aware that anyone was having problems with it,"said Suzi Hillis of the the Hilltop Equestrian Center.

Hillis said for the last four or five years it has had inspectors come to look for the ants and fortunately it's been clean.

"We get tested annually because we do have livestock and a nursery on the property, but it has never been an issue here," said Hillis.

The fear for some horse owners is that the stings have been known to blind animals. The Maui Invasive Species Committee points to cats and dogs that have fallen victim to the vicious stings.

Hilltop also worries if the ants make their way onto the center’s property it would affect grazing if they were forced to spray to eradicate the pest.

Hillis is glad for the inspectors’ visits for peace of mind.

"They bring peanut butter and popsicles sticks and they put them around and I guess the ants go crazy and love them, so you can learn if you have them in a reasonable amount of time," Hillis said.

Nalo Farms owner and former Farm Bureau Head Dean Okimoto said he's allergic to stings and doesn’t want the ants anywhere near his farm. But he can understand the farmers’ desire for privacy while they work to eradicate any outbreaks.

"Nobody wants to be singled out for these things," said Okimoto.

He does not support a legislative move for punitive actions against farmers, but he is for knowing about an outbreak if there is one.

"Do you think as a business you would like to know if your neighbor has some kind of pest? Yeah, I think that would be good in the long run," Okimoto said.

Agriculture officials met with state lawmakers late Thursday in an attempt to clear the air about their response plan.

Senator Clayton Hee believes the department is putting business before the public interest--something the department disputes.

Hee is calling for nurseries in the surrounding area of the outbreak to be quarantined. The department believes that's not necessary.

It hopes to come up with an eradication plan which could include baiting and spraying and cutting back trees.

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