Invasive little fire ants discovered in Waimanalo

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HONOLULU (AP) - A state lawmaker accused Hawaii agriculture officials of delaying an announcement that an infestation of little fire ants was discovered in Waimanalo.

While leveling the criticism, state Sen. Clayton Hee said Wednesday on the floor of the Hawaii Senate that he was worried that nurseries near the area could become infested.

“The department of ag needs to explain to the public how it’s in the public interest to keep little fire ants in Waimanalo a secret,” Hee said. “They need to explain how it’s in the public interest to not quarantine every one of those nurseries that are in the immediate vicinity.”

Department of Agriculture Director Scott Enright countered that the infestation was discovered in state agricultural lots less than a week ago.

“We don’t go to the press every time we eradicate a small infestation of invasive species,” Enright told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (http://bit.ly/1i4VohT). “If it’s beneficial in any way, we let the public know.”

He said an inspection suggested the ants have been on the ground and in trees for two or three years. A multiagency team will wipe out the infestation, Enright said, a process that could take as long as a year.

The fire ants are among the most insidious invasive species in Hawaii. The tiny, hard-stinging ants were first detected in Hawaii 15 years ago in the Puna area.

It’s believed they move between islands on commercial plants, leading lawmakers to introduce bills this year that would stiffen penalties on nursery owners who spread the ants.

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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